BY CHARLES R. BLAICH
During the first week after September 11, the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) attempted to continue to operate as if the WTC response were a normal multiple-alarm fire, just on a larger scale. The FDNY command post was established under a tent in the middle of West and Vesey streets. The New York Police Department (NYPD) established its command post three blocks east on Church Street. It quickly became apparent that interagency coordination and cooperation would be difficult.
Many organizations—official, private, and charitable—handled logistics during the first week. The OEM and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) were the primary official groups. FEMA’s Southwest Area’s (SWA) Incident Management Team (IMT) began a huge warehousing and distribution operation initially at the Javits Convention Center on the west side of Manhattan.
The Red Cross, the Salvation Army, church groups, and individual citizens gave the rescue workers water, food, and support throughout the week. At times, these well-meaning volunteers exposed themselves to serious injury and hazardous materials while climbing over the debris to deliver food and water. There was absolutely no security. The site was left wide open for well-meaning volunteers as well as sightseers. This would require immediate attention.
With the FDNY command post three blocks from the NYPD command post, it quickly became apparent to FDNY personnel that interagency coordination and cooperation would be difficult at best. (Photo by FDNY Photo Unit.)
The three main emergency agencies—FDNY, NYPD, and the Port Authority (PA)—each established logistic sites for their own agency members.
The PA, having lost its entire WTC complex, began erecting a field command and logistics base in a field west of West Street and north of Vesey Street; it was adjacent to the sidewalk, which ran directly south to the site.
The NYPD established several logistics sites; the main one was on the first floor of 1 World Financial Center (WFC) at the intersection of Liberty and West streets. This was a well-stocked and fully staffed facility.
FDNY had a logistics site on the mezzanine floor of the AMEX Building (2 WFC), at the southwest corner of Vesey and West streets. Unfortunately, few members of FDNY ever discovered this site. A single lieutenant staffed it for four days. An additional site was established in a storefront on Liberty Street near the now vacant quarters of Engine 10/Ladder 10 (10/10), across the street from what used to be the South Tower. This center contained specific rescue and extrication tools and parts.
EMS and FDNY, in cooperation with various emergency hospital personnel, established an extensive and well-equipped triage site on the first floor of 2 WFC on the northwest corner of Liberty and West streets. Unfortunately, it was never used because of the absence of recovered, living victims. The NYPD, FDNY fire marshals, and the New York City medical examiner cooperatively established a temporary morgue on Vesey Street near West Street.
NEED FOR INCIDENT MANAGEMENT APPARENT
The need to organize for a prolonged operation was becoming apparent. Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen had eliminated most of the staff chiefs from FDNY. Of those still part of the organization, several were killed on 9-11. This left an organization that lacked in-depth staff functioning capability.
To address this, a WTC incident command post (ICP) was established on September 18 to assume command of the entire operation and direct the efforts of all the agencies and groups involved. This is the basic concept of an incident command system, as practiced throughout most of the United States, but never in New York City.
SCBA removed from damaged and destroyed apparatus at the site. (Photo by FDNY Photo Unit.)
The command post was on Duane Street, about eight blocks from the northern end of the WTC site. The existing three-story fire station on Duane Street has three apparatus bays. Engine 7, Ladder 1, and Battalion 1 occupy two of the bays. The third bay, actually a separate fire station attached to the other, was vacant and had previously served as the FDNY Museum.
Three chief officers were assigned to staff this command post. Assistant Chief Frank Cruthers was designated the incident commander, Deputy Chief Peter Hayden was the executive and safety officer, and I was logistics officer. Battalion Chief Joseph Pfeifer, Battalion 1, was to assist, as he was able, in planning functions and coordinating the global positioning system (GPS) mapping efforts of the recovered human remains and material items. He had suffered the loss of his brother in the collapse and he himself had sustained serious eye injuries.
Kevin Culley, our liaison from OEM and also an FDNY captain at Hazardous Materials Unit #1, had the apparatus floor of the ICP covered with a wooden platform for acoustical purposes and the visibility needed for the many meetings planned. The second floor became the ICP administrative office. The third floor was reserved for the FEMA Incident Management Teams (IMT). We had no idea what an IMT was or how it could best be used. There had never been any training exercises involving FDNY members of my rank and these federal assets.
Two meetings were scheduled daily at 0700 and 1700 hours. All agencies attended the 0700 meeting; the evening one was reserved for those agencies requiring detailed planning for upcoming operations. FDNY reserved the right to control any entry belowground, for any reason.
The operation of the ICP during my tour there, from September 18, 2001, to February 2002, can best be portrayed as a bell curve. Initially, there was little interest in the post or cooperation between agencies; several agencies protected their assets and refused to yield to what was perceived as any type of control to the FDNY incident commander. As the enormity and complexity of the tasks facing us snapped many agencies into reality, cooperation peaked from the end of September until about mid-November. We then proceeded back to our disjointed, balkanized state.
One of the food and rest stations. (Photo by FDNY Photo Unit.)
A good indication of the level of cooperation between the NYPD and the ICP was the attendance of three-star chiefs at the ICP meetings. As time went on and cooperation waned, the rank was reduced to lieutenant or below.
OVERVIEW OF LOGISTICAL ACTIVITIES
Following is an overview of the logistical activities directed by the ICP.
•As the WTC ICP logistics chief, I became responsible for anything not under the direction of the Operations Post, which was charged with actually guiding the personnel and equipment in searches and recoveries. If it involved inanimate objects, it involved logistics!
•The absolute top priority was to secure the site. For whatever reasons, it took months and a shift of authority from the NYPD to the Department of Design and Control (DDC), a small department usually involved with small-scale building and park projects. The security task fell to Louis Rueda, a professional DDC staff member, who by sheer force of will, a system of passes, a fence built around the entire site, and DDC personnel at every gate finally controlled the site.
Prior to his gaining control, we had the National Hockey League being escorted directly in to operate cranes and swing steel. We had 50 sisters of Mother Teresa being placed in the path of dump trucks and cranes for some public relations stunt. We had the U.S. Marines driving up and down the inclined road to the base of the South Tower for another PR stunt. In addition, every visiting firefighter felt obligated to wander through the site in dress uniform, unaware of the life safety risk.
FDNY retained control of the site for safety and operational effectiveness. The many federal and state agencies, which normally would have imposed their regulations on WTC as a work site, worked with FDNY and fully supported the operation with a minimum of turf warfare.
•A most demanding problem was getting the FDNY relief teams into the site from the mustering area at the World’s Fair Marina near Shea Stadium, about 10 miles away. Buses transported the personnel in and out. The fire commissioner wanted these crews to be on overtime in eight-hour blocks. We changed crews and leadership every eight hours. Later, this was changed to 12-hour tours and then to designating teams for 30-day periods for 12-hour tours. On average, 320 firefighters passed through the site every 24 hours. The NYPD and Port Authority Police Department usually worked 12-hour tours, with their Emergency Services Unit personnel involved with the searching.
Logistics had to provide coveralls and work boots (donated) for the emergency workers for each shift and then had to recover the coveralls for cleaning to prevent contamination outside the site. Since the fire department had brown coveralls, the police department wanted blue. Things like this drove the ICP staff crazy. Pete Picarillo, OEM logistics representative and a police officer, shared our daily frustration.
The FEMA IMTs put our logistic efforts on track and helped in organizing the ICP. These teams were experienced fire service professionals with vast experience in setting up and conducting sustained operations in remote locations while fighting forest fires.
Alim Shariff, one of the first IMT members to arrive, established repro contracts with the Kinko’s across the street from the ICP and personally launched our daily printed Incident Action Plan—the basic planning document. Finally, there was a sheet of music to try to get everyone to sing from!
It was the IMTs that introduced us to the term “tool cache.” Dan Oltroggle from the Southwestern Area and Ron Barber from the Pacific Northwest IMT spent a great deal of time explaining the cache system to the agencies making up the ICP. We consolidated all the separate agency logistic sites under the control of the IMTs. These caches became large-scale tool and clothing issue points. Agency equipment, donated goods, and other items all passed through these sites to the uniformed members.
The Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and volunteer groups too numerous to thank individually handled food and water. Initially, feeding stations were established in a tent on West Street near Vesey Street and a storefront near 10/10 quarters. Later, we expanded to a St. John’s University building on West Street, several blocks north of Vesey Street, and the Marriott Hotel on West Street, next to the still-burning 90 West Street. There were two Marriott Hotels on West Street—the one destroyed with 2 WTC and the newer one a few blocks south.
The final feeding and rest station, operated by the Salvation Army, was the huge white structure constructed in a parking lot just west of West Street and north of Vesey Street. The fire department called it “the biosphere,” because it contained everything necessary for life—food, showers, and gear decon facilities. The Environmental Protection Agency called it the “Taj Mahal” because of its cost.
The ICP logistics staff was held together by Firefighter Lee Morris, who was designated the ground support coordinator and spent his time controlling our ever-growing motor pool of all-terrain vehicles, which kept disappearing until he issued substantial security locks and chains.
HEALTH AND SAFETY ISSUES
Morris worked many hours each day coordinating health and safety matters with representatives of many of the federal, state, and city agencies forming at the gates wanting to implement their versions of site-safety regulations. Morris worked with Mike Fagel, Ph.D., OEM director from Ohio on loan through the Department of Justice, and Joe White, a chief officer from the Anchorage (AK) Fire Department, on loan through FEMA, to achieve the aim of these myriad of agencies, without ceding the command and control FDNY needed to achieve its goals.
One of Morris’ constant tasks was working with many agencies on consolidating the respirator supplies, matching replacement filters with the proper respirator. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provided valued advice on getting the proper respirators with the proper fit.
Dust control was debated forever. The particle concrete dust was everywhere. Any movement stirred it up. The continuing underground fires put particle matter in the air as fast as it was removed. A movie rainmaking company was finally hired to deluge the site and all trucks and cars leaving through designated exit sites.
To see where the underground fires were in relation to the massive storage tanks of Freon there and to determine if these fires were spreading, we plotted on our site maps thermal scan videos obtained through Drug Enforcement Agency helicopters.
Washing station. (Photo by FDNY Photo Unit.)
Detailed planning was needed to move and position the extraordinary number of cranes on site (32 by our count), some of which were one of a kind.
Our ICP publication even included a crane plan. I was assigned to order the Building Department Crane Inspection Unit onto the site to ensure that all these cranes were safe and operating safely.
Respirators that initially arrived at the WTC were donations from various sources. There were multiple brands of respirators and multiple brands of filters; none were compatible with each other. Each type offered a different degree of protection. Respirators were issued from all tool caches, makeshift remote tool sites, and passing vehicles.
We drew from the equipment donated to DCAS (the New York City supply agency). They presented the same problem of incompatibility and varying levels of protection. All the respirator models we used were good, but filter incompatibility was driving our logistics staff crazy. The FDNY Tool Room received the MOLDEX brand of respirators, but supplies were quickly depleted.
To satisfy the demand for large quantities of respirators and filters, Morris arranged with the OSHA regional director for New York, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico to issue 3M and MSA respirators and any associated supplies. MOLDEX respirators could not be obtained in the quantities we needed. All respirators were the NIOSH- approved P-100 Series, which offered protection against organic vapors, airborne gases, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, sulfur dioxide, and chlorine dioxide.
Fit-testing in which OSHA technology was used to ensure the proper fit of respirators for personnel was introduced as time permitted. It was assumed that firefighters would know if the masks fit properly, based on their training; however, even they were fully fit tested as time progressed.
All members of the 30-day details, which commenced several weeks after a series of unsuccessful personnel staffing arrangements had been tried and discontinued by the department, were fully fit tested at the OSHA testing facility on West Street, north of Vesey. The Local of the International Association of Operating Engineers provided additional fit-testing facilities.
TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
Rescue tools and equipment, such as bar cutters and power saws, were ordered through the ICP Logistics Section to the OEM Supply Section located on Pier 92 on the Hudson River and then delivered to the tool caches for distribution. The links from the ICP used telephones (mostly cell phones) and the “e-Team” software using Toshiba Department of Defense-caliber wireless laptops.
One troubling item was the on-site “tool” trucks that gained access because of the lack of site security and proceeded to have emergency workers “just sign for the tools you need and take them.” As the bills for these tools began to be presented to the agencies, we gathered and returned the tools, some of which were very expensive. The vendor and his trucks were removed.
The caches were located at the following sites: PA Compound–West Street near Vesey Street, 1 WFC—Liberty and West Street, and the storefront next to Engine 10 quarters on Liberty Street near Church.
Auxiliary caches were operated from FDNY sector command shacks located in each of the sectors—West, Liberty, Church, and Vesey.
The Red Cross and Salvation Army maintained personal supply caches at each of their many feeding stations.
Personnel had to sign out for expensive items only; these tools were tracked. Everything else was given out to those who re-quested it, regardless of department membership. ID cards were required.
Our supply train was all over the metro area as well as in warehouses in Stratford, Connecticut. The Seventh Day Adventists had two full warehouses there.
A note on the donated supplies: Initially they were a godsend; then, they became a curse! I still have nightmares when I think of the unexpected seven tractor-trailers of pumpkins that arrived in October! Many a school principal received a surprise delivery that week!
There were thousands and thousands of shovels, which are of little use against steel. The small hand tools we needed for searching for bodies and body parts were difficult to get; they were out of season. Home Depot helped as best it could.
Donations played a very large role in supplies. Manufacturers and voluntary groups donated thousands of the work boots issued to the emergency workers. Bunker boots were useless for this type of operation. Almost all the work gloves, socks, personal hygiene articles, batteries, and flashlights were donated. Vapor rub was a valued commodity; it was used to mask the smells of death that became more intense as digging progressed.
Our lack of trucking support kept tons of material sitting at Fort Totten (FDNY Quartermaster) and Connecticut warehouses.
Three proposals were considered for extinguishing the raging underground fires, which burned until early January 2002: foam, directional drilling, and liquid nitrogen. Only the foam was tried. The other methods were very expensive and offered little potential for success. This particular foam was developed for underground coal mine fires and mounds of tire fires. It was somewhat successful in the areas in which it was used. More extensive use of the foam was prohibited by the constant grappler and crane activity.
Our best approach was to employ a low-tech operation: Dig out the fire and extinguish it.
GPS mapping was used to track recoveries of bodies and identifiable equipment in the hopes that it would guide us in our daily operations. What resulted was an historical record of recoveries. The horrific nature of the collapses destroyed any order or logic.
TO BE REEVALUATED FOR THE FUTURE
Using the wonderfully intentioned dog teams at major disasters such as this one needs to be reevaluated for future disasters. With body parts mixed with all the debris, the poor animals sensed humans everywhere, causing the crane and grappler operations to stop while the dogs searched for what, in many cases, could not be found.
Why use a bucket brigade at a site where heavy equipment is operating? With little or no site security, the sector commanders used bucket brigades to put large numbers of people to work and direct them away from where we needed the cranes and grapplers.
Deputy Chief Ron Spadafora, the site safety chief, worked closely with logistics to make this horrible site a safe workplace. No life-threatening injuries occurred to workers or emergency responders.
In November, Battalion Chief Ron Werner was added to the logistics staff. His fire prevention experience helped us put the site in order. Prior to his arrival. Steve Addeo, a civilian chief fire inspector, worked 15 hours a day making the site safe—to remove from the site mounds of oxyacetylene tanks, gasoline cans, and other debris that littered the site in the early days of the operation.
FDNY Lieutenant Jim Cooney was loaned to us to supervise the final cache consolidation into the quarters of Engine 10 and Ladder 10. This task required the patience of a saint and the persistence of Attila the Hun. No agency wanted to see its “cache” taken away!
CHARLES R. BLAICH, a 29-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York, is deputy chief, commander Division 15, Brooklyn. He was the logistics chief for the World Trade Center incident command post. He is a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he has served for 30 years. He served in Vietnam and was on active duty for Desert Storm. He has a B.S. degree in chemistry from St. John’s University and an M.S. degree in fire protection management from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.