International Association of Fire Fighters General President Harold Schaitberger told Firehouse.com news late Wednesday night that the number of firefighters and emergency medical personnel who died in Tuesday's World Trade Center tragedy will likely be greater than original estimates.
"I can say that right now the missing firefighter and fire officers are exceeding previous media estimates," Harold Schaitberger, IAFF General President, told Firehouse.com shortly after meeting with local union representatives. "But IAFF officials and families are holding out hope that survivors will still be found ... All efforts are aimed at survivors at this point."
More than 200 fire fighters, members of IAFF Local 94 and IAFF Local 854, were originally feared missing or presumed dead, but indiciations are now that the number may be higher, IAFF officials said. And that does not include police officers and other rescue, medical and law enforcement personnel on the scene. The total death toll in the attacks in both New York and Washington is likely to rise into the thousands.
Hope was in strong force Wednesday morning, after rescue crews pulled six firefighters and three law enforcement officers from the rubble. But by afternoon, three buildings or portions of building had collapsed in the WTC complex and rescue efforts were temporarily stymied.
Schaitberger said that rescue efforts were continuing in hopes of finding pockets of civilians and rescuers who may be trapped inside. Crews were using high-tech listening devices, dogs and other techniques in the effort, officials said.
"I can't find anybody from five rescues and seven squads," Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen said at a press conference aired nationally Wednesday. "It's just a devastating thing ... The fire department will recover, but I just don't know how."
Sources said the majority of firefighters and rescue workers who responded on the first five alarms of the incident, including the city's search and rescue fleet of five squad companies, were in the towers at the time of the collapses.
Among the dead, four of the most respected leaders of the Department: FDNY Chief of Department Pete Ganci, 1st Deputy Commissioner Bill Feehan and Battalion Chief Raymond M. Downey, FDNY Special Operation Commanding Officer, were killed as well as Father Mychal Judge,one of the Department's Chaplains.
An additional death, reported on Thursday, was Yamel Merino, 24, of Yonkers, N.Y., who was an emergency medical technician.
Downey headed FDNY's FEMA USAR team and had been involved in numerous rescue operations, including the previous bombing of the World Trade Center and the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing where he was operations chief for 16 days. Downey's two sons are also FDNY firefighters, Joseph (Captain of Squad Co. 18) and Chuck (Lieutenant in Engine Co. 317).
The underground portion of the Trade Center complex reaches down more than six stories and incorporates subway stops and parking garages. Hopes are for this area to be the location of other survivors. Six firefighters and one police officer have been rescued so far today. FDNY reports 30 pieces of fire apparatus have been destroyed, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Thousands of other New York City fire fighters are conducting search and rescue activities at the World Trade Center site and Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. FEMA search and rescue teams have been deployed to assist, as well as numerous other local, state and Federal agencies and groups. Construction and trade workers were also joining in the effort.
Crews were making their way up flights of stairs to fight the fire in the first building when the second plane crash occurred. A crew on a gas leak nearby, captured by local television, watched in horror as the plane flew low into the center of the first tower.