MY MISSON ON SEPTEMBER 12 was to assess the scene, report on the status of Special Operations resources, and activate the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team Task Force tools and equipment cache. The task force leaders are the core of the task force. Our New York City Task Force Leader Deputy Chief Ray Downey and other certified task force leaders were among the missing.

Captain Fred Lafemina (now battalion chief) established a base of operation north of the World Trade Center on Chambers Street in an open tennis court area. A large USAR tent was set up and served as the base for Special Operations Command. Lafemina and I concurred on the overall assessment process for determining the immediate needs, a work schedule for an extended operation, rescue and recovery operations, and rest and rotation for personnel.

All Special Operations personnel were directed to report to the base of operation, where they were given their assignments. We established that assignments would be given to five-member teams; there would be no freelancing. Each team consisted of an officer and four firefighters.

We continued to evaluate on-site operations from this command base. We modified tactics and procedures, assessed equipment needs, established a control system for equipment, verified that safety procedures were understood and followed, and conducted daily briefings.


On September 13, it rained heavily, which curtailed some of our recovery efforts. Personnel and equipment continued to arrive. The New York State Capital USAR team was operating on-site. The federal USAR teams and the New Jersey Task Force, a state team, were deployed and on standby at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.

The Incident Support Team (IST) was actively engaged with FDNY in receiving assignments and instructions. Initially, there had been a problem involving the task forces’ receiving instructions and briefings.

The USAR teams assembled assigned personnel at the Javits Center for a mission briefing by the Incident Support Team; they were assigned tasks and were deployed to the WTC. The USAR teams maintained organizational structure integrity throughout all phases of their mission during their entire deployment.

Assistant Chief Frank Cruthers was the designated overall incident commander of World Trade Center rescue and recovery. During this phase of the operation, toward the end of the first week, FDNY established an emergency operation/command center (EOC) in an unused fire station next to the quarters of Battalion/Engine 7/Ladder 1. Day-to-day site management and the two daily briefings were conducted from this location.


While planning the fire department EOC, efficiency was a primary objective. Many factors, including the following, were considered.

Alerting all interagency personnel: city, state, federal, and private sector. The fire department incident command was responsible not only for assembling and directing FDNY resources but also for communicating with other levels of government, the private sector, and the public. This was highlighted by the six primary functions of an EOC: coordination, policy making, operation management, information and recordkeeping, public information, and hosting visitors.

Communication and support equipment. Because this EOC was in essence a startup operation, all communication equipment had to be activated and tested. Support equipment, such as emergency power generators, also had to be installed and tested.

Initiating a message flow recording system. The EOC needed to record, collect, and disseminate information as well as store it for the future. A simplified form of recordkeeping was used and maintained during the entire operation.

Logs, maps, and charts with an operation board. It was vital to maintain a log of events, street maps, and building plans, which held vital information. Damage assessment and other information gathered were helpful in decision making and planning.

Shift schedule (operations can get very intense). It was obvious this was going to be a very long operation (months). A schedule of personnel was required in the EOC so that personnel were not on duty continuously. The schedule included time on and off duty as well as relief breaks. The incident commander did not want key personnel on staff to become fatigued.

Daily briefing schedule. It was important to set up a twice-daily briefing schedule to keep all agencies informed and to coordinate interagency operations. At the 0700 hour daily briefing, we went over events of the past 24 hours and planned for the next 24 to 72 hours. Another briefing was conducted at 1700 hours.

Food, clothing, and other supplies. Personnel required all the basic necessities during extended operations. Food, clothing, office supplies, and housekeeping supplies had to be acquired. Assigning a logistics officer at a large-scale disaster should be the first order of business.

Controlling access to the EOC. To carry out an effective EOC, there had to be minimum interference from those who were not part of the emergency operation effort. During the daily briefing, we discussed confidential planning. This necessitated the establishment of a check-in procedure so that unauthorized personnel could be excluded.

Public information officer. The public had to be kept informed during the operation, or the response for citizens might have been unpredictable. A public information officer was assigned to provide daily briefings for the press and the public.

JAMES P. ELLSON retired in 2000 as a captain in the Special Operations Command, after having served 40 years in the Fire Department of New York. He was the Rescue Operations executive officer to Deputy Chief Ray Downey. Previously, he had served as a firefighter in Engine 65 and Ladder 102, a lieutenant in Ladder 124 and Rescue 1, a captain in Squad 1, and a deputy commissioner in the Office of Emergency Management.

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