FDNY At Ground Zero

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...


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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Where are the engine chauffeurs as we come across rigs? Some of the engines you could get in underneath and some of them were just flat right to the ground, pancaked to the ground, so that even if the engine chauffeur dove under the rig, there was no void space. The guys are saying that we've got to have a lot of people under here.

Then, when they found (Chief of Department) Pete Ganci's body and (First Deputy Commissioner) Bill Feehan's body, we said there's the command post, everybody else has to be right here too. But to lift that stuff - these were the massive, three-finger sections of steel. They weigh 25 tons. There was just nothing we were doing to lift them at that point. That's when we realized we really, really needed heavy equipment in there, but with the access being blocked, that became a real major problem.

I went back to the command post, reported what I saw and we tried to organize a plan. That's where I said you've got to get this north footbridge cleared out of the way. We've got to be able to get some big cranes in to start lifting that heavy steel.

They were bringing some cranes in. They had some mobile hydraulic cranes by nightfall and started working from the south end, but they were really very small capacity and they were 600 feet away from the north tower. That's when they gave me the job of getting that north footbridge out of the way. I worked on that all night the first night.

By 10 o'clock in the morning, we had started to get some heavy equipment in. We got the excavators in, the grapplers, and started to make some headway on it. We peeled off all the facing. This is a tremendous bridge, it's a 300-foot-long bridge. It was a steel box, almost a truss, like a space frame. We started to make some headway through that and by about 1 o'clock that afternoon, I was just shot though. I said I've got the plan organized, we're getting the equipment in to do it and this is where we've just got to keep going. I left and went up to Rescue 1's quarters that afternoon. By that point, a lot of the families were there - Dennis Mojica's fiancee, Maria. Just trying to deal with them was very hard. Mike Geidel was there with his father, Paulie. And naturally, Paul having been a lieutenant in Rescue 1, we're trying to reassure him that, yeah, there are a lot of areas that we haven't gotten to yet. We haven't given up hope. We're going to get him. It was tough trying to explain that.


Firehouse Collection
Numerous agencies operate at one of four command posts and supply stations in and around the firehouse of Engine 10/Ladder10 directly across the street from the remains of the south tower.

I went upstairs and laid down for about an hour and a half. I couldn't sleep. I picked up some dry clothes. I stole some clothes from Mike Pena, a new T-shirt and underwear, and went back down. Worked on the north bridge that second night. First, Fellini sent me with the guys from Harlem, 35 Engine and 14 Truck, went down to check the subway, check the 1 and 9 subway entrance into the concourse to see whether there was a way to come into the collapse area from underneath. And we did. We got as far as up as we could until we were stopped by solid rubble. We came up into the concourse level from underneath. Again, areas that I was very familiar with, I worked in so I knew my way around. Checked right up to the PATH (train ) escalators. We got right up to the PATH escalators, started to go down them, got down to the first level and there were some signs that the area had already been searched. So we went back up.

Firehouse: What did they use to mark those? Did they use paint or markers?

Norman: No, just in the dust. I forget the company. I think it was a Brooklyn company like 204 Engine. "Engine 204 was here." So I said let's go back to see if we find areas that nobody's gotten to yet. And we went down in the east side of the wall. On the east side of the concourse, it's only three sublevels. We got down into all of them, but there were some real protected areas, but anybody that was in them got out. Nobody trapped or anything in any of those areas. A lot of places where people survived or could have survived without being pinned.