The chief of the FDNY Special Operations Command describes reconnaissance and planning. John Norman was a firefighter in busy Engine 290, Ladder 103, Rescue 3, Hazardous Materials Company 1, lieutenant of Rescue 2, captain of Rescue 1 and battalion chief in Harlem's 16th Battalion. A member of the...
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I continued around to West and Vesey and reported into the command post. They were very concerned about fire extending into the telephone company building. They gave me a couple of companies and said get into the telephone company building and check on extension there. We had extension on the first and second floors, so we took some standpipe lines, put them in operation and knocked that down. From there, we looked out at 7 World Trade Center again. You could see smoke, but no visible fire, and some damage to the south face. You couldn't really see from where we were on the west face of the building, but at the edge of the south face you could see that it was very heavily damaged.
Firehouse: Could you see if there was a lot of debris in the street after the building came down?
Norman: Yes, that's why we couldn't walk down Vesey. But I never expected it to fall the way it did as quickly as it did, 7. But we took some defensive positions, actually tied the lines off and pulled the companies back into the building. I didn't feel too bad once we got back away from the perimeter just because that's a real, real heavy, old-style building.
We knocked down any fire and checked for extension in the phone company building. We tied the lines off and left them flowing out into the street onto the debris piles that were burning out in the street there between the phone company and 7. I came back outside and I forget who the IC (incident commander) was at that command post, but he says we're getting a lot of reports of firemen still trapped. They think they know the location of the original command post and why don't you get over there and see if you can get a hand, organize something over that way.
OK, where is it? And he says it's on the other side of that bridge right there. You had the north pedestrian bridge that was blocking the entire access. We had to go around, behind and through 3 World Financial Center and come back out onto West Street at Liberty. And again, an absolutely incredible amount of devastation. With the familiarity I had with the whole building, it was absolutely astounding. I really couldn't see how bad things were up to that point because of the smoke condition. I was still expecting to see large sections of buildings standing and everything. Once I got out onto West and Liberty and see that there's nothing left, the whole steel of that building is out covering the block, it's just incredible.
Now we're still worried about 7. We have guys trying to make their way up into the pile, and they're telling us that 7 is going to fall down - and that was one of the directions from the command post, to make sure we clear the collapse zone from 7 and this is a 600-foot-tall building, so we had to clear a 600-foot radius from that building.
Guys are looking at me when I'm telling them to move away, we're over by the north tower and we got to get out of here. They said what building you talking about? I said that building and they thought the phone company because through the smoke you couldn't see what I'm talking about. They said that building isn't going anywhere. I said no, not that building, the one next to it, the big one.
It was tough getting them to understand what we're talking about because until you had done either a couple of 360s around this whole site or if you got an aerial view somehow, you really couldn't appreciate the scope of the damage. You come in and you see one thing and say oh, this is a big problem. Like 90 West Street. 90 West Street was burning and guys would say we got this big problem over here. 90 West Street would have been a big problem, would have probably been a borough call by itself during normal times.
We had fire on South End Avenue in one of the apartment houses in Battery Park City. I'm looking at that and I'm saying that's a third alarm in normal times and there were two engine companies dedicated to it.
There was fire on the third and fourth floors. I guess it probably was debris got into the third floor and auto-exposed to the fourth with a good fire there. There was a fire up on the roof of 2 World Financial Center, again from debris landing on it. All of which would have been something to talk about normally.
But now we get out there and we could crawl through this mass of steel. There were window openings in the steel - what used to be the windows of the exterior walls. You'd look down every step and say that's an aerial ladder down there dropped down into the void. Guys are searching in all those areas. There's got to be people here, they've got to be here.