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Context of '(9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Fire Chief Worried WTC Could Collapse; Other Firefighters Unconcerned'

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In the lobby of the north WTC tower, just after the South Tower is hit, Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen speaks briefly to Fire Chief Ray Downey. According to Von Essen, Downey—who is a highly respected expert on building collapses—says to him, “You know, these buildings can collapse.” Von Essen later recalls, “He just said it in passing, not that these buildings will collapse in 40 minutes and we have to get everybody out of here, or not that they’ll collapse by tomorrow, or not that they necessarily will collapse at all. Just that they can collapse.” [Fink and Mathias, 2002, pp. 229; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004] But other firefighters do not appear to have shared this concern. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Fire Department command officers who are planning for operations inside the Twin Towers expect that there will “be localized collapse conditions on the damaged fire floors,” but do “not expect that there [will] be any massive collapse conditions or complete building collapse.” At the end of its three-year investigation of the WTC collapses, NIST will report, “No one interviewed indicated that they thought that the buildings would completely collapse.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 72 and 75-76] In fact, Deputy Fire Commissioner Lynn Tierney will meet up with Downey and others—including Von Essen—slightly later, on the south lawn of the WTC complex, where a new command center is set up. At that time, according to Tierney, Downey will only be concerned that the 360-foot antenna atop the North Tower will fall, and “No one ever thought the towers were going to come down.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/11/2006] However, shortly before the first tower comes down, EMT Richard Zarrillo will be asked to relay a message to some senior firefighters that the mayor’s Office of Emergency Management “says the buildings are going to collapse” (see (Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). And later in the day, Mayor Giuliani will recount that around the same time, he had been told “that the World Trade Center was going to collapse” (see (Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will state, “The best estimate of one senior [fire] chief, provided to the chief of the department sometime between 9:25 and 9:45, was that there might be a danger of collapse [of the South Tower] in a few hours, and therefore units probably should not ascend above floors in the sixties.” The Commission does not state, however, whether this fire chief was referring to a total building collapse or just a localized collapse. [9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004] Ray Downey is killed when the second tower collapses at 10:28 a.m. [New York Times, 9/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Lynn Tierney, New York City Fire Department, Ray Downey, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Thomas Von Essen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to numerous rescue and recovery workers, the area around WTC Building 7 is evacuated at this time. [Kansas City Star, 3/28/2004] For example:
bullet Emergency medical technician Joseph Fortis says, “They pulled us all back at the time, almost about an hour before it, because they were sure—they knew it was going to come down, but they weren’t sure.” [City of New York, 11/9/2001]
bullet Firefighter Edward Kennedy says, ” I remember [Chief Visconti] screaming about 7, No. 7, that they wanted everybody away from 7 because 7 was definitely going to collapse.” [City of New York, 1/17/2002]
bullet Firefighter Vincent Massa: “They were concerned about seven coming down, and they kept changing us, establishing a collapse zone and backing us up.” [City of New York, 12/4/2001]
bullet Firefighter Tiernach Cassidy: “[B]uilding seven was in eminent collapse. They blew the horns. They said everyone clear the area until we got that last civilian out.” [City of New York, 12/30/2001]
bullet Battalion Fire Chief John Norman: “I was detailed to make sure the collapse zone for 7 WTC had been set up and was being maintained.” [Fire Engineering, 10/2002]
Several New York Fire Department chief officers, who have surveyed Building 7, have apparently determined it is in danger of collapsing. [Fire Engineering, 9/2002] For example, Fire Chief Daniel Nigro explains their decision-making process, saying, “A number of fire officers and companies assessed the damage to the building. The appraisals indicated that the building’s integrity was in serious doubt. I issued the orders to pull back the firefighters and define the collapse zone.” [Fire Engineering, 9/2002] Fire Chief Frank Fellini says, “We were concerned that the fires on several floors and the missing steel would result in the building collapsing.” [City of New York, 12/3/2001] And Fire Captain Ray Goldbach says, “[W]e made a decision to take all of our units out of 7 World Trade Center because there was a potential for collapse.” [City of New York, 10/24/2001] However, some firefighters seem surprised at this decision. When Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen is making his way through hundreds of firefighters who are being held away from the WTC site, he hears complaints like, “It could take days for that building to come down,” and, “Why don’t they let us in there?” [Essen, 2002, pp. 45] When Deputy Fire Chief Nick Visconti is instructing firefighters to evacuate the area, one comment he receives is, “[O]h, that building is never coming down, that didn’t get hit by a plane, why isn’t somebody in there putting the fire out?” [Firehouse Magazine, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Vincent Massa, John Norman, Joseph Fortis, Nick Visconti, Ray Goldbach, Frank Fellini, World Trade Center, Tiernach Cassidy, Thomas Von Essen, Daniel Nigro

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

New York City Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen says that almost 4,000 firefighters who have participated in the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center have complained of respiratory problems, but adds that long term effects of working at Ground Zero are uncertain. “We won’t know for a long period of time if there is any long term effect. Some might lead to asthma, some might lead to lung conditions,” One firefighter has been treated for allergic alveolitis, a rare lung inflammation. Von Essen’s comments follow a Newsweek interview with Dr. David Prezant, the chief pulmonary physician for the city’s fire department. Prezant explained to the magazine that thousands of firefighters require medical care for a range of illnesses, including coughs, sinus infections, lung trauma and severe asthma. Prezant, a professor at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, has referred to these ailments collectively as the “World Trade Center cough.” [CNN, 10/29/2001; CNN, 10/29/2001; New York Post, 10/29/2001; Newsday, 10/30/2001; BBC, 10/31/2001; New York Daily News, 11/20/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: David J. Prezant, Thomas Von Essen

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

The City of New York releases a large volume of records from 9/11. These include over 12,000 pages of oral histories—testimonies from 503 firefighters, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians involved in the 9/11 emergency response—and about 15 hours of radio communications between dispatchers and firefighters. The oral histories were gathered in informal interviews by the New York City Fire Department, beginning in October 2001. This was on the order of then Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, who said he wanted to preserve the accounts before individual memories faded. However, these histories were never subsequently used for any official purpose. [New York Times, 8/12/2005; BBC, 8/13/2005; Guardian, 8/13/2005; Newsday, 8/13/2005] The New York Times, under the freedom of information law, originally sought the records in February 2002. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration refused the request, claiming their release would jeopardize the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, and violate firefighters’ privacy (see July 23, 2002). The newspaper, joined by some 9/11 victims’ relatives, consequently sued the city, and in March 2005 the state’s highest court ruled that the city had to release the oral histories and recordings, but could edit out potentially painful and embarrassing portions. The city had also initially refused investigators from the 9/11 Commission and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) access to the records, but relented following threats of legal action. [Associated Press, 8/12/2005; New York Times, 8/12/2005; Guardian, 8/13/2005] Analyzing the oral histories, the New York Times strongly criticizes the lack of information that firefighters received on 9/11: “[F]irefighters in the [north WTC tower] said they were ‘clueless’ and knew ‘absolutely nothing’ about the reality of the gathering crisis.” It continues: “Of 58 firefighters who escaped the [North Tower] and gave oral histories, only four said they knew the South Tower had already fallen. Just three said they had heard radio warnings that the North Tower was also in danger of collapse. And some who had heard orders to evacuate debated whether they were meant for civilians or firefighters.” [New York Times, 9/9/2005]

Entity Tags: City of New York, New York City Fire Department, Thomas Von Essen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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