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Profile: Tom Sullivan
Tom Sullivan was a participant or observer in the following events:
Members of New York Police Department’s elite Emergency Service Unit (ESU) are given an order that means they have to get out of the World Trade Center or delay entering it and consequently many of them will avoid being killed when the South Tower collapses, at 9:59 a.m. [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 101-102; Appel, 2009, pp. 112-113] The ESU is a highly trained organization comprised of first response rescuers. [City of New York, 6/29/2002] Its members respond to situations that require the most specialized training, such as hostage taking and water rescue, and use the most advanced equipment. [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 101]
Officers Are Ordered to Come Down from the WTC - Inspector Ronald Wasson, commanding officer of the ESU, earlier on divided his officers into four teams of five or six men and then sent two teams into each of the Twin Towers to assist the rescue operation. [New York Daily News, 11/11/2001] But now, ESU commanders give the order for the unit’s members to “go tactical.” This means the officers in the towers have to come out of the buildings and go to the unit’s SWAT (special weapons and tactics) vans; put on their BDU (battle dress uniform) suits, flak jackets, and Kevlar helmets; and arm themselves with heavy weapons and assault rifles.
Commander Thinks Terrorists Might Attack the First Responders - The decision to order ESU officers to go tactical is made by Wasson, according to a book by Lieutenant William Keegan of the Port Authority Police Department. [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 101-102] Wasson is currently assembled with a number of other ESU officers outside the Twin Towers, at the corner of West and Vesey Streets. [Appel, 2009, pp. 68] He decides that ESU officers should go tactical due to his concern that armed terrorists might attack the first responders at the WTC. He is “worried that with all his personnel inside the buildings, he [has] no way to protect the cops, firefighters, or civilians from the kind of low-intensity warfare—snipers, automatic weapons, car bombs, hostage situations—he [is] sure [will] follow the attack,” Keegan will write. He believes it is the responsibility of the New York Fire Department to deal with the fires in the Twin Towers, while the Police Department should be preparing for what might happen next. Many ESU members will come out of the towers after receiving the order to go tactical, according to Keegan. [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 101-102]
Order Is Given after an Officer Hears of the Pentagon Attack - However, according to author Anthea Appel, the order to go tactical is made by Sergeant Tom Sullivan, another ESU officer. Sullivan is currently at the corner of West and Vesey Streets along with Wasson, getting ready to take two teams into the WTC. At 9:56 a.m., after hearing over his radio about the attack on the Pentagon, which occurred at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), he exclaims, “Screw rescue!” He then pulls his men back and announces that all ESU teams will be “going in tactical,” according to Appel. “I want heavy vests, helmets, rifles, and machine guns,” he says. In response to his announcement, ESU officers start taking off their rescue gear and putting on combat gear. They take off their safety helmets and replace them with ballistic helmets. They take off their air tanks, unbuckle their Roco harnesses, and put on more body armor over their bulletproof vests. They also unlock their gun bins and take out shotguns, submachine guns, and assault rifles. Some officers grumble under their breath, annoyed at being held back. “They didn’t like wasting time fiddling around with equipment,” Appel will comment, “and this sudden switch interrupted their adrenaline momentum.” They will be in the middle of changing into their combat gear when the South Tower collapses (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Appel, 2009, pp. 112-113]
Order Is Wrong but Saves Lives - The order to go tactical will turn out to be mistaken as there are no attacks by armed terrorists on the first responders at the WTC. However, as a result of it being issued, numerous ESU members will be outside the Twin Towers instead of inside the buildings when the South Tower comes down and many of them will therefore avoid being killed in the collapse. While 14 ESU members will die in the WTC collapses, a far greater number will survive, Keegan will write, “because Wasson’s order pulled them out of the towers and saved their lives.” [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 102] One ESU member, Detective Frank DeMasi, will conclude that Sullivan “definitely saved his life when he made that last-minute decision to switch from rescue to tactical mode,” according to Appel, since the delay while they changed into their combat gear “kept DeMasi and his teammates from walking into the South Tower before it collapsed.” [Appel, 2009, pp. 265-266]
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