During the first few days of operations at the World Trade Center site, we ran the tool operation out of the Federal Emergency Management Agency cache set up on Chambers Street. After that, we were able to build a cache of equipment by securing items from vendors.

We used a lot of reciprocating saws and blades to cut small-diameter objects. We also used circular saws to cut steel—they had metal cutting blades on them and could cut the small pieces. The big steel pieces and beams were left for the iron workers to cut.

Initially, we used bucket brigades to remove small debris; as time went on, we used battery-operated cutters, reciprocating saws, and spreader/cutters to work our way into different areas to search. Since the reciprocating saws and cutters were battery operated, we had to set up a staging area to change over batteries. We had hundreds of chargers lined up to charge the tools.

We were used to working in bunker gear, but it was too cumbersome for working in tight areas. We had to get overalls brought in for working in confined spaces. We needed hard hats for their lighter weight—the weight of the regular fire helmets wore personnel down. We also needed rubber gloves and kneepads (because personnel spent a lot of time kneeling). We usually wear bunker boots but had to bring in truckloads of steel-toed boots for working on the piles. The rubber boots were too cumbersome. Lace-up work boots eight to 10 inches high were better for moving around in the area.

Shovels, hand tools, and saws were used for debris removal and for other operations at the site. (Photo 1 by Willie Cirone; photos 2, 3, and 4 by FDNY Photo Unit.)
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We got just about everything we needed. It might have taken a couple of days, but we got what we asked for.

The battery-operated cutter was the tool in most demand because it was small and could be carried by one firefighter to the pile. Although we had a lot of electric tools, we couldn’t bring in generators because the work area was too large—sometimes we were working on debris piles that were 10 stories tall, and we couldn’t take generators and electric tools up there.

Photo 2
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There was no concrete to speak of—everything had been pulverized, so there was lots of dust. Thus we needed great quantities of dust masks. Some personnel got upgraded to half facepiece respirators. We went through a lot of goggles and gloves as well.

We had a big turnover of clothes—personnel would come out of voids dirty and possibly contaminated, and they would go to decon stations to wash down. We also had to wash down apparatus and equipment before it left the site.

Photo 3
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Another tool site was run by the department’s Tech Services Division for distributing the fire department’s tools. That site went through 10 times the inventory of the SOC tool cache.

We used search cameras with probes and a camera or light at the end to stick into voids; we also lowered cameras by cable into holes so we could see inside.

Photo 4
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We used shovels and trenching tools (collapsible shovels that act as picks) to pull out debris. The first days were more like an archaeological dig than a fire department operation; we found pieces of bone that indicated where victims had been.

Manufacturers sent large quantities of battery-operated reciprocating saws and cutters. As the equipment was brought to the site, we would maintain a record of what we had received. We had to substantiate delivery so we could pay for the tools later.

Some equipment was more suited to operations than others. Battery-operated tools were an asset because of their mobility, light weight, and ease of use in confined areas; however, instead of having four batteries per tool, we really needed 12 batteries per tool—we needed backups. When the batteries died, personnel had to run out for more. We need a continuous flow of fresh batteries at extended operations. Now we have mobile units with numerous charged batteries and battery-operated tools set up to respond to long-duration incidents.

The bucket brigades removed small debris before the heavy equipment was brought in for removal of larger pieces of steel and beams. The acetylene tanks were for the iron work. (Photo by FDNY Photo Unit.)
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Hand lights, flashlights, and helmet lights were all battery operated. At night, we needed handheld battery-operated lighting because of portability.

For nighttime operations, gigantic theatrical lights were brought in and set up in the four corners and the middle of the site. These lights illuminated the work areas fantastically.

We now have large areas of storage for equipment we used most at the WTC so that we can fall back on these useful supplies at future incidents.

NICK GIORDANO is a 25-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York; he spent the past 16 years in Rescue 3. He is a Fire Department Instructors Conference Hands-On Training instructor. At the World Trade Center incident, he operated the Special Operations tool cache.

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