BY JACK J. MURPHY JR.
The Rules of the City of New York, Local Law 5, enacted in 1973, established fire safety criteria that must be met in every high-rise building with a “Class E”-type fire alarm system (FAS). A high-rise FAS has a two-way voice system and a fire command center (FCC) in the lobby of each building. An FCC was present in each World Trade Center (WTC) tower and the other four buildings within the Plaza on September 11, 2001.
Local Law 5 also specifies that a certified fire safety director (FSD) must be present in the FCC of every high-rise office and hotel building when a box alarm is transmitted to the fire department. The FSDs, under the current law, do not have to be dedicated, meaning that they need not perform solely the job functions of fire protection and emergency action. However, the WTC building management did have a dedicated FSD, to ensure an appropriate life safety response. This dedicated FSD and a crew of nine, who made up the complex fire safety team, staffed the WTC Plaza 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, each floor had fire warden teams (FWT) consisting of fire wardens, deputy fire wardens, and searchers.
These buildings are also required to conduct fire drills every six months.
UPGRADES AFTER THE 1993 ATTACK
After the attack on the WTC in 1993, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA), which managed the complex, upgraded the FAS with a mobile fire command center that could be relocated to any building within the Plaza. The FAS was also rewired in a large continuous loop so that if one FAS sub-panel, which covered several floors, was disabled, the severed FAS sub-panel would backfeed the communications to the main FAS.
All stair towers within the WTC complex were enhanced with emergency lighting connected to a generator or a battery-pack light system. Self-illuminated signage and striping further improved the occupants’ descent on the stairs.
FIRE SAFETY DIRECTOR
The FSD trains the floor fire warden team in evacuation procedures; how to use the warden phone; and how to communicate the evacuation progress. In the case of a fire, the wardens must also report the status of the fire. The FSD also trains the building’s service people in emergency incident response.
Six of the nine FSDs died on September 11. Three were retired firefighters: James Corrigan, FDNY captain (ret.), Engine 320; Philip Hayes, FDNY firefighter (ret.), Engine 217; William Wren, FDNY firefighter (ret.), Ladder 166. The others were Richard Fitzsimons, Robert Mayo, and Lawrence Boisseau. Boisseau had experienced dreams several days before 9-11 about falling wreckage and people bringing massive amounts of food; he had talked of death with his wife.
EVACUATION ON 9-11
On 9-11, the WTC FSDs, the fire crew, and floor FWTs; Fire Department of New York (FDNY) firefighters; and the PA police and staff helped lead many people out of harm’s way. The role of the FSDs was especially critical.
The FSDs, during the evacuation, stood fast alongside the fire department at the incident command posts in both towers. Knowing that the fire department’s portable radio system was not functioning properly, when the fire department received orders to evacuate, Corrigan and a fire chief tried to make their way to the old command center to see if they could activate the intercom system and make an evacuation announcement that all emergency personnel could hear.
FSD Joseph Ward, one of the fire safety crew on duty that day, barely made it out alive. He remained at the FCC in WTC 5 until the first tower collapsed. Ward, Corrigan, and other FSDs evacuated some 30 children from the Nursery School in Building 5. The main exits were so crowded with people that the fire crew kicked out windows and carried the children to safety.
Ward became trapped—not once but twice—by crumbling ceilings. He sustained several broken ribs and a back injury. He survived, as did Kevin Horan and Lloyd Thompson.
CONFUSION AT FIRST
Michael Hurley, a PA/FSD, stationed in the South Tower, didn’t really know what happened after peeking up at the North Tower. He thought it was a bomb. In the first few minutes of the attack, the initial fire alarm voice communication in the South Tower asked people to stay in place. Parts of the building, airplane debris, and victims hitting the plaza made evacuation hazardous. But all this changed when the second plane hit the South Tower. As long as the FAS was still operational, the FSDs were making announcements that the situation was serious and that occupants should evacuate immediately.
Many people who had experienced the 1993 WTC bombing began self-evacuating.
Others were confused and wanted to leave through the plaza, but the debris continued to rain down. The FSDs redirected them to the concourse level that led away from the towers and onto the Church Street side of the Plaza.
FWT MEMBERS AID EVACUATION
Some of the FWT members were killed while performing volunteer duties.
•John Griffin, on the 88th floor of the South Tower, quickly assessed the situation and began handing out wet towels for people to use as they evacuated.
•Patricia McAneney, who reportedly was rarely seen without her toy firefighter hat, was the fire warden for her floor in the North Tower.
•Mayra Valdes-Rodriques, a fire warden on the 103rd floor of the South Tower was last seen escorting people on the 78th floor toward the stairs.
•David Fodor, a fire warden on his floor in the South Tower, assisted in evacuating his entire floor.
•José Marrero, a fire warden on the 84th floor in the South Tower, was helping a man down the stairs when he got a call that someone else was trapped. He went back up.
•Rose Riso, a fire warden in the South Tower, would put on her red cap, carry a whistle, and bring a flashlight, even during fire drills. When the first plane struck the North Tower, she told all her staff, “Get out now!” She pulled a woman away from the phone, which allowed the woman to reach the lobby just seconds before the second plane hit.
•Fire Warden Ron Fazio, on the 99th floor of the South Tower, ordered his people to evacuate before the second plane hit. He held the door open for all before leaving himself. He was killed at the plaza level when he was struck by falling debris from the collapsing South Tower. His family has started a foundation named www.holdthedoor.com/ to help people with their loss.
•Since the WTC bombing in 1993, the Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Company had practiced fire and full building evacuation drills above and beyond those required by code. On 9-11, evacuation was led by Fire Warden Richard Rescorla, a U.S. Army colonel (ret.), who barked out evacuation orders with his bullhorn in the smoke-filled stairwells. Only six of the company’s 3,700 employees were lost that day; Rescorla was among them.
More than a dozen or so volunteer firefighters who worked full time at the WTC complex also perished.
Among those who made it out was Fire Warden Brian Clark (the South Tower, 84th Floor). Using his flashlight and whistle, he led groups of people down the stairs. On the 81st floor, they encountered a trapped victim. While the groups continued to proceed down the stairs, Clark and another person pulled the victim out from under wreckage. All three made it out alive.
TEMPORARY MEDICAL STATION
One Chase Manhattan Plaza, which was several blocks east, became a temporary medical station for those evacuating the WTC. The medical staff for J.P. Morgan Chase assisted many people who had been injured that day. Barbara Sauro, RN, treated many patients who had glass embedded in their bodies, a person with a severed foot, and one with internal injuries after having been tossed through the air. Sauro recalls that there were so many types of noises in the area that she never heard the second tower come down.
COLLATERAL DAMAGE AND OTHER NEIGHBORING BUILDINGS
During the early stages of the WTC attack, a full building evacuation was taking place at 37-story Deutsche Bank (130 Liberty Street), directly across the street from the South Tower. The building sustained heavy collateral damage from falling debris. A large section of the WTC tubular exterior wall had pierced through nine floors, and the spearing section was hanging precariously over the street for the first few weeks of the incident. While extinguishing some small fires on the rooftop of this building, a fire brigade member witnessed firsthand the second plane hit the South Tower.
The entire facade of a City University of New York building was ripped off. The building, just newly renovated, was scheduled to open later that week. Buildings in the immediate area of the Plaza built of materials with more fire resistance, in accordance with the 1938 Code, sustained very little damage.
•The 32-story Verizon Telephone Building, which stood between the collapsed WTC 7 and in the shadow of the North Tower, sustained very little exterior damage. The Federal Building had little exterior damage, and the 90 West Street building at the corner of West and Liberty streets was heavily damaged by fire but did not collapse. None of the area buildings constructed under the old code sustained as much damage as the lightweight buildings in the immediate area.
During the first few days and weeks that followed the 9-11 destruction, the High-Rise Fire Safety Directors Association (FSDA) responded to several requests for assistance from the FDNY Special Operations Command. One of the earlier requests was for help in identifying a stair tower in which several victims were found. In the floor plans FDNY had, the stairs were designated by number (Stair 1, for example). Over the years, all stairs had come to be identified with a letter of the alphabet, such as “Stair A.” Several attempts were made to obtain current building plans from the PA. The PA said it had already given the plans to the command post. The question then became, which command post—the City Police Department, the PA Police Department, or the Office of Emergency Management? Retired FDNY Chief Larry Byrnes was able to provide the information concerning stair identifications the same day. He responded from his home with an extra set of current blueprints.
Concerned with hazardous conditions such as the wind’s effects on the remaining panes of broken glass and the conditions of the facades of the surrounding structures, the FSDA network was asked to contact individual FSDs and ask them to report to their respective buildings to help erect scaffolding and tarps that would enwrap the buildings and help alleviate unsafe conditions.
FUTURE HIGH-RISE CODES
Earlier this year, the FSDA appointed a task force to address new code requirements for high-rise buildings. The events surrounding the tragedy of 9-11 have heightened the public’s concerns pertaining to the safety of high-rise buildings. This anxiety has manifested itself as deep-rooted apprehension, a perceived vulnerability.
The task force, whose members apply the vigor of this law on a daily basis, recognized that the new challenges created a need to address those issues that can be characterized as “changing circumstances” and that the local law should not remain a static entity. Instead, it must include, but not be limited to, changes such as the following: a dedicated fire safety director who shall be responsible solely for life safety and emergency actions; full high-rise building evacuations for emergencies other than fire; compartmentation limited to 5,000 square feet; a fully functional radio communications system for first responders within the high-rise; a rescue air-support system; a dedicated waterproof fire service elevator that has a low pressurized system to remove smoke; self-illuminated signs and directional arrows within the stair tower; increased fire protection for structural components; and a high-rise building intelligence tactical sheet (BITS) to enhance fire department field operations.
“Portraits of Grief,” New York Times, Oct. 2001 – July 2002.
“Loss and Reco
JACK J. MURPHY JR. is the fire marshal (ret.) and former deputy chief of the Leonia (NJ) Fire Department. He has a master’s degree in education and several undergraduate degrees, including those in industrial technology and fire science. Murphy is an editorial board advisory member for Fire En-gineering and the FDIC coordinator for classroom education, is vice-chairman of the New York City Fire Safety Directors Association, and was the charter president of the Bergen County (NJ) Fire Chiefs Association. He is the author of RICS/Rapid Incident Command System (Fire Engineering, 1998). He also serves on the John Jay College (NY) Board of Directors for the Fire Safety Foundation and is an honorary FDNY battalion chief.