BY THOMAS J. HARING
Iarrived at Broadway and Park Row just as the North Tower had collapsed. Numerous people were fleeing the area south of Chambers Street. I established a command post at Broadway and Vesey streets. I asked the Manhattan Central Office to have incoming units report to that location.
The sectors operating with me and Division 6 on the east side of the WTC site at this time (from the time I arrived on September 11 until 5:30 a.m. September 12) were the following:
•Liberty Street (East)—Deputy Chiefs James Esposito, Division 15, and John Coloe, Division 1. They were involved in search and rescue operations. One of the significant operations of this sector was the approximate 20-hour operation to free a single trapped victim.
•Church Street—Deputy Chief Thomas Fox, Division 6. This area contained 4 and 5 WTC, which were heavily involved in fire.
•Barclay Street—Deputy Chief Dave Corcoran, Division 11. This area included 7 WTC, which was heavily involved in fire and ultimately totally collapsed. Chief Corcoran had established a collapse safety zone of about one city block in each direction significantly before the collapse.
Chiefs Corcoran, Fox, Coloe, Esposito, and I had served as chief officers in Downtown Manhattan. That experience provided us with knowledge of the buildings and the area that significantly assisted us during this operation.
The first-arriving personnel were asked to survey the area and provide a report. Initially, a unit was assigned to monitor each of the portable radio channels for Urgent or Mayday messages. That’s how the transmission from the members of Ladder 6 trapped in the stairway of the North Tower (who were later rescued) was first picked up. Eventually, two members were assigned to monitor each channel.
Because of communications difficulties, we designated runners between each of the sector chiefs; the runners delivered handwritten messages and verbal relays when the portable radios were ineffective. Also, we established a high communications relay point. A ladder company was assigned to the roof of a high-rise building to relay communications. You could see the disappointment in their faces when they were assigned, but there were no complaints. They performed one of the most valuable tasks that day, triangulating communications from the Vesey Command to the sectors and at times to the West command.
Two officers were assigned to log command post actions. All incoming units and off-duty members when assigned reported to the recording officers. Members’ destinations, orders, and names were logged. This proved invaluable numerous times when questions arose pertaining to former communications or assignments.
We staged incoming officers in lines of chief officers, engine officers, and ladder officers. The lines at times were 30 to 40 members deep. We used a bullhorn to communicate with and update these personnel and to make requests for equipment, such as specialized tools, saws, blades, and so on. There were retired members, volunteer companies, companies from New Jersey and Yonkers, and various equipment suppliers. The officers were directed to have firefighters stage in a nearby high-rise lobby. Officers and firefighters were assigned as requests were received from the sector officers.
Early in the operation, two portable radios were taken from incoming on-duty units to be used by units of incoming off-duty members that did not have them.
Water relay operations were established in consultation with members of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), who arrived on the scene early. They were instrumental in mapping out the water grid so water pressure could be increased to compensate for the pressure loss resulting from damaged and broken water mains. The grid boundaries were South—Albany Street; East—the east side of Broadway; North—Barclay Street; and West—Battery Park City. Hoselines were stretched from the east side of Broadway down each of the following streets: Barclay, Vesey, Fulton, Dey, Cortlandt, Liberty, and Cedar—the hydrants that initially had the highest pressure in our sector.
We left the scene approximately 21 hours later, at about 5:30 a.m. (September 12).
The personnel operating that day used and shared the accumulated knowledge acquired through our years on the job—every fire or emergency to which we responded, every unusual occurrence, every communications issue we ever addressed. We drew on this knowledge and all the training we’ve had throughout our entire careers on this one day. So many things happened so quickly … experience mattered. There was a tremendous sharing of knowledge, information, and ideas. Everything was a team effort. Firefighters, officers, EMS, the DEP, the police department, civilians, the public, the volunteers—all assisted, all cooperated, and all united.
THOMAS.J. HARING, a 24-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York, currently serves as Division 6 commander. Among the positions he has held are deputy chief, Division 8; commander, Battalion 1; and chief, haz-mat operations. He was a member of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management Development Committee and of the National Fire Protection Association 1996-1997 Technical Committee for Haz Mat Response Personnel.