FDNY Chiefs Speak Of WTC Experiences

Two programs at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore presented excellent narratives of dramatic events during and following the terrorist's attack of the World Trade Center in New York City.

First is the knowledge now that sending firefighters into the buildings to fight the fires was fruitless. But in fact the rescue operation was the saving grace for thousands of people Norman said. And there was no way that FDNY was not going to go in and rescue these people.

"We knew we were going to get up, get everybody out and then get out ourselves. We were not going to put out the fire," Norman said.

One of the toughest things to do was shift from rescue to recovery. "Why stay in the rescue mode for so long? We felt we owed it to our people. We knew people could survive up to 14 days. If anyone could do it, our firefighters could. We have them every benefit of the doubt," Norman said.

Like Picciotto’s case they thought there might be other survivors in voids in the destruction but after two weeks they had checked everywhere. They switched to recovery.

They designated 2,000 firefighters as the primary task force to work recovery duty at the site. The more then 9,000 other firefighters went back to normal city firefighting duties.

Norman was quick to thank all those that helped FDNY and the city. But he was also quick to explain that the volunteers that flooded into the city to aid and search for their firefighter brothers created a big problem for FDNY. He said their easy access to the site and the lack of communications with them often put them in precarious situations, sometimes dangerous.

He used an example of clearing a dangerous site of FDNY firefighters and soon seeing volunteers looking for a place to dig, working that site without authorization.

He said that it caused a morale problem too. FDNY firefighters on normal duty would see a television interview with a firefighter from out of town working at the site and wonder why they were not allowed to search for their brothers too.

Norman described a monumental effort that involved food and laundry and adapted work clothing and an endless list of unusual needs. Around every corner was a new problem to deal with. But in the end, Norman said, the recovery effort produced only three firefighter injuries that required hospitalization.

"In the beginning I didn’t know how we were ever going make it. But we got a lot of help from our friends," Norman said.