Thinking back over the past 20 years since the horrific attack of 9/11, so much has changed in the fire service that it would be incorrect to say that all was a result of the attack—but much of it was. To begin with, our lives as citizens were forever altered. Security became a national obsession, and much of that hyper awareness has continued in the fire service. Much as we now have TSA agents scanning our luggage and using metal detectors and other instruments at the airports, we as firefighters are now constantly aware of our exposure as potential targets of violence. When doing large-scale planning, we always incorporate a good deal of security and terrorism planning in our preevent scenario work. We are now very much aware that evil people view us as a barrier to their bad intentions. As such, our previous status as a neutral and protected class has evaporated, and firefighters now are viewed by terrorists and those who would harm our citizens and fellow countrymen as a threat to their endeavors.
The events of 9/11 also highlighted how dangerously toxic and incredibly harmful our work sites are. The widespread incidence of cancers among the 9/11 responders, the Ground Zero cough, elevated numbers of autoimmune disease, and many other ailments directly associated with our work helped us to better understand our everyday risks. Today, we are hypervigilant about our respiratory protection; we are focused on maintaining our personal hygiene to its highest standards postevent. Now, we document our firefighting activities as exposures, knowing that at some point in the future those normal firefighting activities may cause life-ending or life-altering illnesses. Our efforts at always keeping our gear as clean as possible and avoiding contaminating areas where we gather and eat have become second nature.
Few events in history have the unenviable disrepute for evil and malevolence as 9/11. One would have to look at the reigns of terror such as the Jacobins of the French Revolution; Stalin and the murderous Marxist of the Soviet Union; Mao and his incredibly evil and deadly communism/socialism; and, of course, the disgustingly sick Nazis. The targeting of structures and people who represented the values and achievements of Western culture had not been done since the attack on Vienna by the Ottoman Empire in 1683. These attacks had physical, emotional, and spiritual impacts on all of us as decent human beings, especially as Americans. The lack of concern or respect for others, the disregard of all standards in the flagrant embrace of ideology, should forever damn those involved to infamy.
The cost that firefighters paid emotionally that day and since is indeterminable: 343 virtuous, caring, and highly dedicated professionals were murdered while attempting to save the lives of others on their watch. The toll that we paid emotionally as a service is seen today in our incredible efforts to try to be there for one another in times of stress. Since 9/11, our efforts at understanding how an event can impact a firefighter have never been more serious. We now have greater understanding of how physical danger, the effects of smell, sleep deprivation, survivor’s guilt, and perhaps most significantly being unable to do anything despite our best efforts can affect us in subtle and sometimes devastating ways. Our emotional health and our spiritual health we now know to be incredibly vulnerable by our dedication to our chosen purpose in life, not that any of us would have chosen a different path—we are the bravest because we know the dangers and the risks and notwithstanding have chosen to go out and meet them.
We will never forget the heroes and those they tried to save that day; we will forever honor their memories and strive every day to be worthy of their legacy.
—Editor in Chief Bobby Halton
Improved Staffing, Training, and Equipment
By FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief (Ret.) John Norman
The terrorist attacks on the United States on 9/11 have had many lasting impacts on the fire service. Besides the immediate loss of 343 Fire Department of New York (FDNY) personnel, 37 Port Authority police, and 23 New York Police Department officers, each of these agencies has suffered ongoing losses as the cancers caused by ingesting carcinogenic materials that day and in the aftermath continue to kill hundreds more responders. The losses have been devastating.
The first positive effect of that day was the nation realizing that the emergency services are truly heroes. The public adulation translated into federal dollars being spent to address many of the shortcomings in the emergency response field, addressing issues such as improvements in gear like communications equipment, hazardous materials, and technical rescue and other terrorism-related equipment to training in many of these aspects. The federal government, and particularly the U.S. military, recognized the need to integrate the local emergency responders into the Homeland Security effort.
In New York City, one of the biggest changes was the realization that the threat of terrorism was not something that was going to go away. Everyone suddenly “got it.” This was real. Firefighters responding to incidents or just going about their daily lives started to look at the world around them through the lens of, “What could a bad guy do to wreak havoc in this situation, and what can we as the fire service do about it?”
The Homeland Security grants have greatly improved the FDNY’s capabilities to respond to potential terrorist threats in ways that were hard to imagine in the dark days immediately following 9/11. Recognizing that the city is spread out over three main islands connected to each other and the mainland by a network of bridges and tunnels, and that a terror attack was able to disrupt the bridge network, the department set about making each borough independent of the others. Whereas before 9/11 the city had only one collapse rescue, located in The Bronx (on the mainland), the department purchased four new units so that each borough could function independently and could also handle multiple simultaneous attacks. In addition, multiple stockpiles of disposable supplies, such as metal cutting saw blades, were dispersed throughout each borough to increase the city’s preparedness and reduce the impact an attack on a single critical site could have.
(1) The attack on the World Trade Center shook the fire service to its core. Unfortunately, it continues to take a toll, as many of the responders to that event are continuing to die of cancers and other illnesses. (Photos courtesy of authors.)
(2) In response to the disaster, huge improvements in preparedness have been made in emergency services across the country, often funded by federal grants.
The attack showed the FDNY the need to dramatically “deepen its bench” in terms of special operations personnel and equipment. In the aftermath of 9/11 and the five real anthrax attacks in the city that October, the department trained and equipped more than 3,400 personnel with advanced hazmat capabilities. Previously, the department relied on five heavy rescue companies, seven squad companies, and one hazardous materials specialist unit for these incidents. The squad companies are five-firefighter engine companies with a second apparatus that is outfitted with a wide array of hazmat and technical rescue gear. The members receive extensive training in both disciplines.
In an era of swarming attacks meant to overwhelm local resources, that was deemed insufficient. One additional squad company was created, as well as four hazmat technician engine companies. Twenty-five ladder companies were designated as Special Operations Command (SOC) Support ladder companies, outfitted with a second apparatus that included expanded technical rescue and hazmat gear and technician level training in these disciplines. An additional 29 Decontamination Task Forces were created, with additional apparatus assigned to existing engine and ladder companies, the ladders designated as Chemical Protective Clothing companies, and the members trained to operate in up to Level A clothing for the purposes of removing victims from contaminated areas to areas where decontamination-trained firefighters and emergency medical technicians would perform decon and patient care.
The preparations that were made have proven to be of value far beyond the terrorist attacks that spurred them initially. The additional second piece apparatus have proven extremely valuable during large-scale events as diverse as the Northeast Blackout in 2003 and Super Storm Sandy in 2012, when the smaller vehicles were staffed with overtime personnel responding to incidents like stuck elevators, auto accidents, and similar emergencies, leaving the fully equipped ladder companies in service and available to respond to structural fires and other more serious events. More recently, plans for dealing with a biological attack have helped the organization deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two of the greatest impacts on the department have been the result of partnerships with outside organizations: (1) the U.S. Army’s Center for Terrorism Studies at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and (2) Columbia University. Both institutions donated their staff to improving the FDNY’s preparedness for dealing with a rapidly evolving world. Lieutenant Colonel Reid Sawyer of West Point for more than 10 years coordinated multiweek-long Terrorism Preparedness Programs that involved numerous world-class expert lecturers and had the student attendees broken up into teams that “war gamed” nearly every imaginable threat to the city and how to respond. Likewise, the staff of Columbia University-Graduate School of Business, with the assistance of the General Electric Corporation, has conducted the Fire Officers Management Institute, a wide-ranging program designed to educate the FDNY’s managers and future managers in handling a 15,000-person organization in a rapidly changing world. Both programs have had major impacts on the overall development of the department, particularly in the recovery from the attacks of 9/11.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and our loss of so many colleagues, it was difficult to see how we would ever recover. We got through those terrible times with a lot of help from our friends from all over the fire service and the world. A wide range of agencies and organizations, too numerous to mention here, helped every step of the way, providing training, equipment, personnel, and ideas and contributing unselfishly at every turn. Thank you!
The past 20 years have been a very uplifting time after such dark hours. Unfortunately, the fire service can never stand still and rest on its laurels. Threats are constantly evolving, and we must constantly prepare to meet each new challenge. Apparatus purchased 20 years ago wear out and must be replaced. Personnel who were trained need those skills continuously refreshed to remain sharp. The public’s attitude toward the emergency services, particularly law enforcement, has changed. One of the greatest threats to a successful organization is complacency. Just because we have not been successfully attacked in 20 years does not mean the threat has gone away. Always strive to be the best you can be. Don’t ever say, “That could never happen here.” Never forget!
(In the aftermath of the WTC attack, John Norman was designated as the chief of Special Operations and spent the next five years rebuilding that organization and helping to prepare the FDNY for future threats.)
Be Prepared for Large-Scale Incidents
By FDNY Deputy Chief (Ret.) Thomas Dunne
Much has changed in the 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attack. For one thing, an entire generation of Americans has grown up with no firsthand experience of the event. To many of that generation, 9/11 can seem like a somewhat remote historical event, a terrible incident, but one which they may understandably find it difficult to truly comprehend.
However, 9/11 has left deep impressions on all who lived through it, not the least of which is an awareness that we are not immune to unexpected, large-scale assaults on our safety and ordinary way of life. Disasters are not just things that we read about in the news or remote episodes that occur in other areas of the globe. This has clearly been reinforced since 9/11 by the COVID-19 pandemic. We live in a highly interconnected world in which good—and bad—events can potentially affect all of us.
From an organizational standpoint, 9/11 has highlighted the need for fire departments to be prepared for large-scale, prolonged incidents that will test logistical and command procedures and require numerous agencies to work together. Many departments, including the FDNY, have prepared themselves to adapt to such challenges. There is a great deal of additional training, specialized equipment, and a mindset that did not exist prior to 9/11 as the department plans for 21st century challenges.
On the negative side, we are currently living in a period of deep political polarization, a situation that did not exist in the weeks and months following 9/11. A real sense of community guided New York City and the rest of the country through the difficult days following the attack. Hopefully, we can rediscover that sense as we face the future challenges that await us.
Culture of Death Caused by 9/11
By FDNY Deputy Chief (Ret.) Vincent Dunn
The fire service honors those who served and die fighting fire, and we will always revere and pay tribute to our fallen brothers and sisters forever. This is part of the fire service culture. We honor our forebearers and maintain our traditions and our culture of the fire service.
The slaughter of 2977 civilians, firefighters, and police officers at the World Trade Center and Pentagon by a terrorist attack on 9/11 has affected us all: 2,606 at the WTC; 125 at the Pentagon in Washington D.C.; and 246 crew and passengers of four planes.
We have had two decades of funerals, prayers, memorial services, and monument building to honor our fallen family’s friends and colleagues, and it looks like we will have several decades more of sadly watching, grieving, and praying for ailing Ground Zero search and rescue workers. Good Samaritan volunteers, construction workers, firefighters, and police are slowly falling ill from the toxic effects of working on a smoldering pile of burning rubble for 10 months.
Some among us are still suffering from the sights, sounds, and smells of the fire and collapse disaster and remembering dead family and friends. For some, it is hard to regain a healthy mental balance that they had before 9/11. These survivors have not returned to an equilibrium between balanced thoughts of life and thoughts of sorrow and the death of lost coworkers, loved ones, friends, and strangers.
Some say there has even developed a culture of continually reflecting on death in our society since the 9/11 tragedy. Some see an increase in thinking, acting, and saying things that could be interpreted as choosing a culture of death over life.
The fire service has a strong tradition of honoring its dead, but we also cherish life more, and that is demonstrated every day in a firefighter’s mission: saving life. Social scientists say our culture is what we think, say, or do and believe. In the fire service, we have a healthy culture. It is expressed every day in the firehouse kitchen and at our homes and communities by our lifestyles, customs, traditions, and heritage.
The fire service culture honors our dead but, more importantly, cherishes our lives and the lives of family and friends. The “life” culture of a firefighter is humor, heroism, family, altruism, comradery, loyalty, risk taking, solidarity, humility, satisfaction, and optimism. You have to be an optimist to run into a burning building. The fire service rejects expressions attributed to a culture of “death”: sadness, anger, hatred, isolation, revenge, disloyalty, criticism, boastful pride, dissatisfaction, cynicism, hopelessness, discord, hostility, and conflict.
The fire service has always had the ability to bounce back from tragedy. We do it every day after every fire and emergency. It is called resiliency. Firefighters will be first to recover from a culture of death caused by the tragedy of 9/11.
Ability to Handle New, Unexpected Threats
By FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief (Ret.) John Buckheit
The most important change in the FDNY since 9/11 is our improved ability to handle new, unexpected threats. By adopting and developing our ability to use the incident command system (ICS) and incident management teams (IMTs) and the development of the use of fire companies as task forces with specialized training and equipment, we have been able to stand up forces to deal with threats that were not foreseen.
ICS allows us to build right from the initial call a coordinated response with a preset “blueprint” for command and control and communications. IMTs establish a system to set objectives, form strategy, implement supporting tactics, and then review and adjust each operational period. This is especially useful in dealing with new, unusual threats. Specialized task forces allow units to, in addition to regular duties, be ready with additional knowledge, training, and tools to aid in control and mitigation against difficult threats in complex environments.
These improvements have proven themselves to be valuable as an approach against a wide range of disasters. From blackouts to super storms, from vehicle-as-weapon incidents to pandemics, the FDNY was able to mobilize and coordinate teams to great effect over a wide variety of challenges.
In addition to these strides, the FDNY has begun to acknowledge and implement the theories and practices of the mental performance fields in which responders are exposed to and develop methods to improve mental function under heavy stress conditions. The Mental Performance Initiative (MPI) gives our responders tools to stay cool under fire, which echoes our hallmark as “The Bravest.”
Lastly, we have a new generation of first responders with new skill sets, new ways of looking at things, and new energies. Our traditions support our core values, to serve and protect from harm, but these challenges will be met with new insight, methods, and energy by the latest generation to join the fire service.
Partnering with Fire Protection Engineers
By FDNY Deputy Chief George Healy
The events of 9/11 certainly changed the world, the FDNY, and the fire service as a whole. Safety and security have been brought to the forefront of most people’s minds. Soft targets and civilian places of interest clearly now represent an attractive target for persons or groups looking to do harm. From the biggest city to the smallest town, foreign and domestic terrorists clearly can and will strike at will and can inflict much harm and cause great disruptions. Globally, these events are occurring on a daily basis, and from transportation centers to places of amusement and houses of worship, it seems no locations are off limits.
The fire service hopefully has realized that our core competency has gone from responding to fires and medical emergencies to being on the front line of this new and evolving global threat. These challenges are being met by the fire service with enhanced training opportunities and funding. This has made the fire service more relied on by the public we serve. If there can be a “silver lining” to the horror of 9/11, it is that the fire service has received much-needed funding to better protect our members and the public.
Most departments have always answered the calls for assistance for hazardous materials, collapse rescue, and mass-casualty incidents as well other nonfire incidents. Most would agree that with the focus on domestic preparedness, today we can respond to these incidents better trained and equipped than ever before. Federal, state, and local municipalities all recognized the need to better support and fund the fire service for the betterment of the local community. In the 20 years since 9/11, it seems that the fire service continues to be tasked with greater responsibility and truly is the all-hazards response agency.
The changes that the fire service has endured and the additional responsibilities we have taken on are also driven by the fire service. I feel that pre-9/11, some leaders in the fire service were fire focused and reluctant to realize the importance of being that all-hazards agency. The stark reality of the world that we live and respond in is that the fire service will be called to duty and we need to be prepared to answer the call. The ongoing challenge for our organizations is remaining mission driven and expanding our capabilities while continuing to ensure proficiency with our core competency.
Fire continues to be our day-to-day threat, and our skills need to remain laser focused. Shortly after 9/11, the fire service began a partnership with fire protection engineers to better understand the modern fire environment. Today, we can boast that firefighters around the world are benefiting from this partnership. The fire service has driven this research, questioning and working hand in hand with a group of dedicated researchers from Underwriters Laboratories (UL). UL has provided the research findings from countless experiments designed and executed alongside fire service leaders to offer the fire service tactical considerations for fire operations. This ongoing research allows departments big and small to better understand fire dynamics, refine their tactics, and educate their members to safely and efficiently operate on the fireground. 9/11 made us all want to honor the legacy of the sacrifices of that day and to continue in the best tradition of the fire service to be better with every response.
Command and Control
By FDNY Battalion Chief Daniel P. Sheridan
The biggest change I have witnessed in the FDNY after 9/11 is the way the FDNY handles command and control at incidents. On 9/11, the unimaginable happened: Two of the largest buildings in the world were attacked by hijacked planes. This event would put the FDNY resources to the max and beyond. In the early days of September, the FDNY treated this like any other large operation, but it was not enough: Our normal way of doing business was not able to keep up with the operational, planning, and logistical demands that were needed to complete the operation.
A National Type 1 All Hazard NEMO team was sent in to see where they could lend a hand. At first, they were met with a little resistance but, after a few days, the FDNY saw great value in the way the NEMO team operated. First and foremost, everything was planned. The planning section of the IMT would set up the next operational period using an Incident Action Plan (IAP). It is comprised of different forms such as ICS 202-206, which cover everything from assignments to medical plans.
The IAP is not used at every incident, but it set the stage for how the FDNY was going to operate in the future. In August 2005, the FDNY was able to reciprocate and send the newly formed FDNY IMT to New Orleans to assist the New Orleans (LA) Fire Department in handling the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The FDNY by default had always followed a sort of ICS ratio of supervision. In the ICS world, three to seven is the norm, with five being ideal. There are usually five or six firefighters under the supervision of an officer; most battalions have six companies with one having 10 companies in a battalion, and there are four to six battalions in a division. At any given fire, the first-in battalion chief is initially the commander; the second “all-hands chief” is assigned to the fire sector. As the incident expands, the deputy chief will create more divisions or groups as needed. To sum it up, the FDNY has a seamless way to manage any incident no matter how small or large.
Be Open to Change
BY FDNY Deputy Chief Chuck Downey
My father, Deputy Chief Ray Downey, was a proponent of staying current and educated on changes in the fire service. His book The Rescue Company provided insight on how the FDNY was changing from the fire-heavy “War Years” to the expanding technical rescue and hazardous material aspect of the fire service. He was a member of the Gilmore Commission that assessed domestic terrorism and preparing for the worst possible incident. His foresight led to many advances in the fire service.
Change in the fire service is often a battle in the firehouses. We are resistant to alter the techniques, wisdom, and experience passed down from our senior firefighters. As I reflect back on 9/11 after almost 20 years, both training and technological improvements come to the forefront as far as changes in the FDNY.
The 9/11 Commission Report had many recommendations, which led to more assistance with such programs as firefighter grant programs. The increased funding has played a major role in training with many advancements in technology, specialty training in many disciplines, continuous upgrades in radio communications, and more efficient personal protective equipment advancements. These are just a few of the many changes for the FDNY since 9/11.
When I was appointed to the FDNY, we did not have bunker gear, not every firefighter had a radio, and the list goes on. I think what is important is to be open to change. Staying educated and training must be preached to the troops. The cliché of “being prepared for the unexpected” should be spoken with more conviction. The number of years in the fire service should continue to bring out more humility because there is so much to experience. Please “Never Forget” all those we lost.
Changes in Procedures
By FDNY Deputy Chief Frank Leeb
The FDNY can be viewed as a 154-year-old tree with many growth rings. The growth rings tell not only the age but the growth, learning, and evolution of the organization. Some rings are tight together, while others are wide and demonstrate great growth.
9/11 was a seminal and transformational time for the FDNY, as it was for the entire fire service. In the FDNY, there have been few periods of time that have resulted in such an accelerated rate of change and transformation. The growth rings on our tree are wider and scarred during the period surrounding 9/11. To be sure, the FDNY is a learning organization that has used these periods to rebuild and grow.
Although many policies, procedures, equipment, and training initiatives were born out of 9/11, the FDNY begin preparing for a major terrorist event years before 9/11. The enhancement and addition of five squad companies into SOC in 1998 is one such example. These units were developed with the specific intent to bolster the FDNY’s ability to respond to a large-scale terrorist attack.
The FDNY has thousands of pages of procedures ranging from how to fight a fire in a private dwelling to responding to a chemical attack in a subway. There is a noticeable change in the evolutionary lines of our procedures. This is most evident in our hazardous materials and terrorist-related bulletins and procedures. Most of these procedures were written just prior to 9/11 and the years following 9/11. However, this is similar to other periods of time within the department where procedural and document changes were made in anticipation of and preparation for a specific incident type or as a result of an incident where lessons were learned.
Other changes the department has implemented since 9/11 include a vastly upgraded communications system; subway, airplane, and marine firefighting simulators; enhanced training; improved protective equipment and training for hazmat-related responses; the formation of the IMT; a yearly day of terrorist-related training for all firefighters; a specific and streamlined suspicious activity reporting system; a tiered response and training matrix for incidents requiring specialized training and equipment; an enhanced marine operations division; and a robust response matrix for certain technical rescue incident types.
While much has evolved in the past 20 years, what has not changed is the dedication of our members, their dedication to the mission, and their love of the FDNY and the job.
Get to Know the People You Work With
By FDNY Battalion Chief Stephen Marsar
Regarding the emergency services in general, I would say the positive changes that we’ve experienced since 9/11 include the following, in no particular order of importance:
- Collaboration among all the emergency service entities and other agencies that we rely on to do our jobs and answer our calling—which is to help others in their times of need, be they actual or imagined.
- We’ve come a long way with our inter- and intra-agency communication capabilities, both on emergency scenes and in the planning stages of events and incidents within our given jurisdictions. Of course, one of the downfalls of all those technological advances is that, in many cases, we’ve made so many strides in available frequencies and multichannel/multizone radios that we find we cannot speak to each other. Go figure!
- Through our advanced educational opportunities and the realization that you can never stop learning in this firefighting/EMS profession, we are currently the most educated, best equipped, and most technology driven service than at any other times in our relatively short history. We are better able to articulate and express our needs and concerns as well as listen and offer insightful, viable solutions to other stakeholders who express issues unique to their areas of expertise. The fire and EMS services have been recognized as necessary entities to be included at the table of homeland defense and security in addition to our well-rounded emergency response expertise and capabilities.
- The universal use of the NIMS and ICS has been perhaps one of the single most productive and positive outcomes of 9/11. Although there are agencies out there that still refuse to learn them, trust them, and use them, as a service we have come to recognize their value and have seen them successfully put to use in our wildland, urban, suburban, and rural districts. No community is immune to tragedy, and managing those tragedies is exactly what NIMS and ICS are all about.
- On a personal note, after attending hundreds of memorial services and funerals in the days, weeks, months, and years since the attacks, I was often struck by the stories of my coworkers. As family members and childhood friends spoke of the firefighters and officers whom I was privileged to have worked with for the preceding 12 years, I was disappointed that I didn’t know a lot about some of their lives outside the firehouse. I vowed not to let that happen again. Since 9/11 and at each step of the three promotions I have made since, I make sure to spend time to get to know the officers and members with whom I work and volunteer, talking to them about their lives outside of the firehouse and their hobbies, likes, dislikes, upbringings, embarrassing life experiences—all the things that don’t necessarily get talked about at the firehouse kitchen table.
Amid all the controversy, stories, and tragedies of that single day, I ask each of you to remember how this country and the world came together, how each of us was changed, and how we tolerated much more than usual. We prioritized our lives and looked at each other differently than we did before. Trivial things were just that—trivial.
While we memorialize all those who were murdered on 9/11, please take a look at the people around you, familiar and strangers alike, and make a promise—a promise to ourselves and to each other to go back to the months that followed 9/11, to hold onto the simple things in life, and to work and love each other without boundaries.
Let us not forget those who are currently risking their lives to protect us this very second both in the emergency services at home and in the armed forces around the world. Let us remember that we are all united and created equal—and a select few of us are lucky enough to be firefighters! Thank you all for never forgetting!
Changes to High-Rise Buildings an Important Memorial
By Fire Engineering Technical Editor and Building Construction Expert Glenn Corbett
For many firefighters, it’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since the darkest day in firefighting history. Many of today’s firefighters weren’t “on the job” on 9/11, and yet they operate in the legacy of 9/11.
In the aftermath, a series of inquiries were initiated, overlapping to a certain extent. The first of these, the “McKinsey Report,” studied the issues of incident command and management of the FDNY and NYPD. Of particular note was the emphasis on the use of a unified command structure and the incident command system to coordinate multiple responding agencies. In addition, the report highlighted the need for better radio communications, a significant problem at the World Trade Center. Finally, the report pointed to the need of what has become to be known as situational awareness, more holistic “macro” level knowledge of what is happening at a given moment.
Chapter 9 of the 9/11 Commission Report also detailed the response by emergency responders at the World Trade Center, addressing many of the same issues as the McKinsey Report. This report, however, made recommendations directed to the larger emergency response community in the United States. Most notably, the adoption of NIMS and the need for communications interoperability can be connected to the 9/11 Commission Report.
Finally, the World Trade Center report of the National Construction Team Report of the National Institute of Standards and Technology dealt not only with emergency response but with the buildings themselves. The National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Act of 2002 was a direct result of the efforts of the 9/11 families, most notably Sally Regenhard (mother of FDNY Firefighter Christian Regenhard, who perished on 9/11) and her Skyscraper Safety Campaign. The NCST made many recommendations to our building and fire codes, including upgrades to high-rise structural fire resistance; more resilient shaft enclosures; better fireproofing for steel; elevator improvements; and, very importantly, radio signal amplification requirements for high-rises.
For me, the creation of the Christian Regenhard Center for Emergency Response Studies research center at John Jay College that studies multiagency large-scale incidents is a living legacy to the 343 firefighters lost at the World Trade Center.
While there is a memorial to those lost on 9/11 at Ground Zero, an even more important memorial to those firefighters murdered that day is the changes to policies, practices, and high-rise buildings themselves that affect firefighters around our nation.
9/11 WTC Initiatives Become a National Movement
By Jack J. Murphy, Chairman, New York City Fire Safety Directors Association
On that infamous day of September 11, 2001, the heroic efforts of the World Trade Center (WTC) first responders, the WTC fire safety team members, the Pentagon military personnel, and those on Flight 93 saved countless lives, and yet their supreme sacrifices still resound: “Never Forget” beats in our hearts today.
From these terrorist attacks, not only would fire service responses change for battle plans, but new emergency preparedness plans would emerge for all-hazard (man-made/natural) threats, and building and fire codes would be reevaluated for new proposals. While this code development is still an ongoing cycle for tall buildings, some of the initial (2002) nonfire threat apprehensions have been enacted: a high-rise building Comprehensive All-Hazard (nonfire) Emergency Action Plan for explosions, chemical releases, biological threats, and active shooters; NFPA 1620, Standard for Pre-Incident Planning (2020), calling for building intelligence to be pushed out to firefighters in an electronic format; a new NFPA standard being developed for Professional Qualifications as Facilities Fire and Life Safety Director; and newer tall building systems for Photoluminescent Exit Path Markings, Elevators for Occupant Evacuation, and Firefighter Emergency Operations.
On the local, state, and national code levels, we are still striving to improve these life safety measures as the fire service faces newer challenges with super (984 ft./300m>) and mega (1,968 ft./600m>) tall buildings.
[In Memoriam: Fire safety directors: James J. Corrigan, FDNY/Capt. (Ret.); Philip T. Hayes, FDNY/FF (Ret.); William X. Wren, FDNY/FF (Ret.); Lawrence F. Boisseau; Richard P. Fitzsimons and Robert J. Mayo. Fire wardens: Richard Rescorla, Colonel, U.S. Army (Ret.); Welles “The Red Bandanna” Crowther, FF/Nyack Fire Dept.; John Griffin, Patricia McAneney, Mayra Valdes-Rodriquez, David Fodor, Jose Marrero, Rise Riso, and Ron Fazio.]
Keep Their Memories Alive
By FDNY Captain Mark Gregory
September 8, 2001, was a beautiful Saturday. I had friends coming over that day to celebrate my son Mark’s first birthday. My close friend Gerard “Gerry D” Dewan showed up early as usual. He couldn’t wait to talk about his recent transfer into 3 Truck. His excitement could not be restrained as he talked about his upcoming tour working with the legendary Captain Paddy Brown.
As the day progressed, the drinks were flowing as well as the firehouse banter we all knew and loved. The backyard picnic table became a makeshift firehouse kitchen. Pete Martin was holding court. Pete was our lieutenant in Rescue 2 and had seen it all. John Napolitano, Gerry D, and I were soaking up Pete’s knowledge through his stories. Lincoln Quappe was present as well. With a crunched-up cigar in his mouth and a beer in his hand, he would add comic relief where appropriate, most of the time. This was the last time I saw my friends alive. Images of that day are vivid today.
So, what has changed since 9/11? There is so much we can talk about. The job (FDNY) has changed considerably since 9/11. The number of members who witnessed the events of that day are a minority. The experience levels we lost will never be regained. While terrorism was always a consideration, now it is an everyday reality that we all have to deal with.
Our 9/11 members. The events of 9/11 and the days that followed are forever etched in our minds. While many members have retired since that day, we must remember “our family” and be there for them. Medical monitoring has never been more important than it has been over the past 20 years. Many firefighters have survived serious illnesses because of testing and monitoring. These stories need to be reinforced to our newer generation to promote their effectiveness. The rise of cancer in the fire service as well as other rare illnesses can be contributed to the modern-day fire environment in which we operate. Protect yourself and “be there” to protect your family.
The amount of experience we lost on 9/11 was a crushing blow to the FDNY. The rebuilding of the department was not easy but was possible. Companies that were hit hard relied on senior and mid-level firefighters to get the companies back on their feet. In true fire service fashion, we adapted to the situation and overcame many of the hardships thrown at us. Remember, our brothers who died that day made the ultimate sacrifice. It is our duty to carry on the good work they were doing and keep our job moving in the positive direction they would have expected.
Morale and tradition. It is up to all of us to keep the morale and traditions of our department and beloved fire service alive and well. 9/11 is not over. Every day, we have new cases of members with 9/11-related ailments. Unfortunately, we still have a considerable number of funerals related to the events of that day. When the general public forgets, the fire service doesn’t.
Line-of-duty death plaques and memorials hang in many firehouses as a tribute to those who made the supreme sacrifice. Know each and every one of those stories! In the companies I have been blessed to work in, the names of our fallen are etched into the minds of our young. Stories are told of feats they performed on and off the fireground. The families of our fallen will never forget their loved ones. We are part of their families as well. Nothing warms the heart and soul of a family member more than the signs of respect in our quarters and our ability to openly talk about their loved ones. As we retire or move on in our careers, the young of our company must be educated to keep this tradition alive.
Keeping an individual’s memory alive to educate our young. When I instruct a drill, teach a class, or go over a postoperation critique, I always like to give credit to tidbits that I picked up on from members we have lost. Many great men who died from 9/11 added ingredients to my career that helped me to become a better firefighter. Don’ lose that recipe. It’s a family tradition. Give credit where credit is due. I think of Ed Geraghty’s size-up drill every time I approach a building. Lincoln Quappe’s torch tips and Pete Martin’s rescue ops demeanor have been told time and time again, as was Gerry Dewan’s commitment to family and the job (as Gerry would say, “It’s what we do, bro”).
Although 20 years may have passed since that day, the memories are very fresh in most of our minds. Our brothers and sisters who have died from the events of that day did not die in vain. The date 9/11 is more than flying a flag, having a challenge coin in your pocket, or hoisting a drink in the air as a toast. Wear your uniform or company shirt with pride; step up to help our sick and those in need; take the time to get off the recliner to educate our young; and, most importantly, “Never Forget.”
(Mark Gregory was a firefighter in Rescue 2 during 9/11.)
By FDNY Lieutenant Paul Mastronardi
On September 11, 2001, I had just become a 1st grade firefighter. I was assigned to SOC and was a junior member of Squad Co. 252. I had the honor of learning from the best in the business, Lt. Pete Martin, Lt. Timmy Higgins, Fr. Tommy Kuveikis (our senior member), and Fr. Pete Langone (all LODD Box 8087 9/11/01). SOC was led by legendary Deputy Chief Ray Downey (LODD). Each of the 12 companies were filled with outstanding officers and firefighters. Of the 343 members lost, one quarter (89 members) were from SOC. A loss of 89 members from a division with a little more than 400 was a near-fatal blow.
September 11 brought out the best of the FDNY. Members accomplished the greatest rescue mission of all time. Members performed deeds of bravery and heroism—some recorded, others forever lost in the rubble of the Twin Towers. Members of all ranks from 1st Deputy William Feehan and Chief of Department Peter Ganci to probationary members were killed. Every facet of the job was affected—ladder companies, engine companies, the Marine Division, and even the Department Chaplain Father Mychal Judge (LODD).
The mission on September 11 was to rescue civilians. On the days that followed, our mission was to rescue our members and any civilians who may have survived the collapse. As days turned into weeks, our focus went from rescue to recovery. In SOC, our mission was to recruit and rebuild the command in the months and years to follow. Members stepped up, coming from all over the city to fill our ranks. The new members embarked on months of intensive training, learning the skills necessary to become SOC firefighters.
The months have faded into years and now the years to decades. The memories of our lost brethren are forever etched in our hearts. The spirit of the FDNY has not changed; only the faces and names have changed. Every year on 9/11 when I am working, I do a drill in the memory of Lt. Higgins. In Squad 1, we honor the memory of Lt. Michael Esposito by giving our new members his famous Remote Drill.
Our equipment has become more advanced, and our training has broadened. We have taken on additional tasks: rebreather, swift water, boat operator, advanced high angle, terrorism, and active shooter, to name a few. Chief Ray Downey’s dream for SOC is being carried out by his eldest son, Rescue Battalion Commander Joseph Downey. Chief Ray Downey created FEMA NY TF-1; his son Joe now heads NY TF-1 and created an NYC asset, the SOC Task Force. The Rescue School went from a one-room schoolhouse (a mobile trailer) to a wing at the fire academy and several buildings in the new fieldhouse. SOC has greatly evolved in the past 20 years, and the rest of the FDNY has followed suit.
Over the course of the past 20 years, science and technology have advanced. The mission of the FDNY has been steadfast: Protect Life and Property of the Citizens of the City of New York. Our leadership is unwavering, from Chief Edward Croker to Chief Ganci to the current Chief of Department Tom Richardson, the FDNY is a highly motivated and truly dedicated firefighting force. The men and women of the FDNY carry the spirit of the members who were lost on 9/11 and embrace the challenges of the future.
By FDNY Captain (Ret.) Michael M. Dugan
“What has changed since 9/11?” is a very interesting question. The world has changed, travel has changed, and the fire service has changed. These changes happened because we needed to get better command and control of large-scale incidents. We now have in the fire service NIMS, which is used on almost every run the fire department goes on. NIMS is adopted in New York City and called CIMS (Citywide Incident Management System), which has established roles and responsibilities and designated authority for city, state, and other government entities to perform in a unified manner during a large-scale emergency. This allows for the agencies to understand their core competencies and work together to accomplish a unified approach and outcome to the emergency.
Another big change that has come about in the fire service is cancer awareness. We knew before 9/11 that breathing particles of combustion, dust, and gases during and after a fire were not great for you. What we didn’t know was how bad they truly are. The fire service has gotten more proactive and progressive with cancer awareness and prevention. Many of my friends and coworkers have passed away from cancer. All of them suffered in one way or another, and their families suffered even more. Cancer awareness and ways to prevent cancer on the fireground and after the fire are now becoming more mainstream, as they should! You want to enjoy this glorious career and then enjoy a wonderful retirement!
The world has changed and so has the fire service, but what has not changed is the men and women doing the job. The brothers and sisters doing the job are some of the best the world has to offer. The fire service is the greatest job in the world!
By FDNY Lieutenant Michael N. Ciampo
For many of us, life on and off the job significantly changed after 9/11. Unfortunately, it continues to change for many of us who are still working. Events on a smaller scale have occurred, and our firefighters continue to respond to the unexpected. Because of this, units train daily in arenas that we never thought we would be doing when we got on the job. Subway and bus bombing drills, setting up community reception centers for radiation detection, decontamination procedures, metering measures, and getting weekly information from counterterrorism units are now mainstays in our department. The FDNY continues to train its members to prepare for tomorrow’s tragedies. Even during the pandemic, FDNY brought live stream training into firehouses across the city. The faces and names may have changed, but the dedication to duty and protecting and saving lives continue.
What hasn’t changed is walking into firehouses across the city and seeing the faces of our fallen in pictures or on memorial plaques. In addition, we’re still experiencing the loss of firefighters from 9/11 illnesses. Unfortunately, these losses continue to change the lives of many families. We all wish that would change.
Share Their Stories
By FDNY Captain Doug Mitchell Jr.
When asked the question “What has changed since 9/11?” I pondered my reply. I knew that I could delve into 20 years of changes in our department’s tools, tactics, and policy. But, after really giving it some deep thought, all I could think of was, is there anything that has remained the same since that fateful day in September?
I was a young, hard-charging firefighter in September 2001. I was a member of the “3-year wonders,” a comical catch phrase used to describe our group in the firehouse on East 85th Street in Manhattan, the home of Engine 22 (E-22), Tower Ladder 13 (TL-13), and the 10th Battalion. Tom Casoria and I had arrived at the firehouse together in 1999 from probie school, he to E-22 and I to TL-13.
I would never see Tom again—not him, not my Captain Walter Hynes, nor any of the nine men from our firehouse. Our losses on 85th Street become known as the “Yorkville 9,” and they joined the collective “343” members who made the supreme sacrifice that fateful morning.
Twenty years later, the impact of 9/11 still affects our department. The response and recovery at the WTC continue to alter our members’ lives. WTC illness recently took my dear friend and 85th Street alumnus Captain Frank Portelle of E-50, far before his time. He and far too many others never got the chance to enjoy their hard-earned retirements because of illnesses attributed to their work at the WTC.
In 2001, my wife was pregnant with our first child. Our child is no longer a child. The children of our fallen are now also adults, and no doubt several are parents of their own. I cannot begin to comprehend the changes and challenges their families have faced over the past 20 years.
They say that time heals all wounds. For those who experienced this magnitude of loss, we know it does not. Wounds this deep leave scars. Scars remind us of the injury. Scars rarely fade; they become a part of who we are—generations of lives forever changed in an instant.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”—Mother Teresa
For those we lost, we who remain wear that scar, not as a badge of courage but to tell the next generation of firefighters and civilians alike of the love, compassion, courage, and sacrifices they made for their fellow man. We will, and must, continue to pass on those “ripples” and share their stories and legacies through our voices for generations. As time passes and the new members come and go, those memories must continue to live on and ripple further. And I know they will; they will be carried forth by those who currently work within those four walls on East 85th Street and every firehouse across our great city who lost members in the line of duty.
So, what remains the same? We responded then, and we continue to respond. The unwavering commitment of our department and its members remains strong. The bonds of brotherhood, company pride, and respect for tradition in our work have remained unbreakable. They have strengthened over the past 20 years. Our members routinely, bravely, and tirelessly put themselves in harm’s way for complete strangers and do so time and time again. I am honored to be among this team that is the Fire Department of New York. I know that our newest members follow these traditions and continue to honor and remember all the sacrifices of those who came before us.
Twenty years is a career in the Fire Department of New York. While some days 9/11 seems like an eternity ago, the images, the smells, the sounds of that day, and the weeks and months that followed echo through my head like it was last week. But, time stands still for no man. I continue to be incredibly proud of all our members as they carry forth the mantra “Never Forget” and welcome our fallen families with open arms.
May the families of all who perished that day find comfort and continued support. May those who continue to struggle with the lingering health effects from that day not give up the fight!
Rest in peace to our “343” brothers of the FDNY, especially to the “Yorkville 9.” And to all those who have died since from illnesses from the rescue and recovery at the WTC, you are not forgotten; we will NEVER FORGET.
While everything changed, one cannot look back without also looking forward. Look back at the sacrifices we have made with gratitude, remembrance, and honor. Look forward with new strength, new growth, and a never-wavering commitment to the future. Change is inevitable; honor our past and continue to grow in the future.
Personally, I cannot thank the entire fire service enough for their love and support of our fallen and their families these past 20 years. Your support has been palpable, carrying their stories forward, helping us pass along “ripples” for our brothers. We know you have always been right behind us and we cannot thank you enough.
Take some time to hold those you love a little tighter. Tell those you love that you love them. Life is indeed fragile. May God Bless America and may God continue to bless the FDNY.