Chiefs Speak Of WTC Experiences
Two programs at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore
presented excellent narratives of dramatic events
during and following the terrorist's attack of the
World Trade Center in New York City.
FDNY Battalion Chief Rich Picciotto described the
harrowing hours he and a small group spent trapped
after the collapse of the World Trade Center North
Tower. He faced a moment when he said,
"Please God make it quick."
FDNY Battalion Chief John Norman, who took over
the Special Operations Division after the loss of
Ray Downey at the World Trade Center, and Lt. Fred
Endrikat, Rescue 1, Philadelphia FD who was the
task force leader for the FEMA USAR teams sent to
New York, spoke of the rescue and recovery efforts
following the terrorist's attack. "We were
not going to leave these people. There was no way
in hell we were not going in," Norman said.
Last Man Down
Chief Picciotto was asked to repeat his program as
hundreds filled the room to overflowing the
previous day. He has written his story in the book
"Last Man Down",
Picciotto's unimaginable day began when he took a
company of firefighters from Ladder 110 in
Brooklyn up into the North Tower to help in rescue
operations. He had worked the World Trade Center
bombing in 1993 and felt he had a good handle on
how to work this incident.
It was around the 35th floor when a new reality
set in. As he spoke, Picciotto shook the podium he
was speaking from. He described the a noise above
getting louder, "like a train coming into a
station." Everyone was frozen in their
tracks. No one said anything as they stared up to
the ceiling. He said it felt like the noise went
right through them as the South Tower collapsed.
Picciotto realized it was bad when all radio
communication disappeared. From where he was he
ordered an immediate evacuation.
The evacuation was going well, he said until they
found a room with perhaps 25 handicapped people
with another 25 people helping them. They had
stopped to rest. Picciotto sent the helpers on
down and had the firefighters take care of moving
out the handicapped.
Now with a group other firemen, a Port Authority
Police Officer and an elderly woman named
Josephine, they worked their way down the
stairway. On the sixth floor they heard the noise
from above again only multiplied by 100, Picciotto
said. He knew what it meant. That is when he said
his little prayer.
It took eight seconds for the building to come
down. "A lot time to think but not a lot of
time to do anything," Picciotto said. The
wind hit and stuff fell on him and the noise was
intense. Then there was silence and blackness. He
thought he was dead.
It took a few minutes, Picciotto said, to realize
he was alive and relatively uninjured. He also
became aware that he was not alone. The 14 people
were saved from the collapse by the structure of
the stairwell. With a light pointer, Picciotto
marked the spot in a photo of a mound of crushed
steel and concrete. "We were right about
It took hours to make contact with rescuers. As
the dust cleared they could see a ray of light
above and worked their way toward it. It took
hours for rescuers to get to them.
Picciotto said he wrote the book because so many
people wanted to know about his experience and it
was a way to help him release his emotions.
"God had a reason to keep me alive. I wish I
knew what it was. Tragedy sometimes brings out the
best. I don't think the brotherhood in the fire
department could get any stronger," Picciotto
Rescue and Recovery Efforts at the World Trade
FDNY Battalion Chief John Norman was at home
sleeping in starting a two-week vacation when he
got the phone call alerting him to the WTC attack.
The loss of Downey moved him into command of the
Special Operations Division. Hindsight has
presented several questions about how FDNY handled
the incident and Norman was frank about problems.
First is the knowledge now that sending
firefighters into the buildings to fight the fires
was fruitless. But in fact the rescue operation
was the saving grace for thousands of people
Norman said. And there was no way that FDNY was
not going to go in and rescue these people.
"We knew we were going to get up, get
everybody out and then get out ourselves. We were
not going to put out the fire," Norman said.
One of the toughest things to do was shift from
rescue to recovery. "Why stay in the rescue
mode for so long? We felt we owed it to our
people. We knew people could survive up to 14
days. If anyone could do it, our firefighters
could. We have them every benefit of the
doubt," Norman said.
Like Picciotto's case they thought there might be
other survivors in voids in the destruction but
after two weeks they had checked everywhere. They
switched to recovery.
They designated 2,000 firefighters as the primary
task force to work recovery duty at the site. The
more then 9,000 other firefighters went back to
normal city firefighting duties.
Norman was quick to thank all those that helped
FDNY and the city. But he was also quick to
explain that the volunteers that flooded into the
city to aid and search for their firefighter
brothers created a big problem for FDNY. He said
their easy access to the site and the lack of
communications with them often put them in
precarious situations, sometimes dangerous.
He used an example of clearing a dangerous site of
FDNY firefighters and soon seeing volunteers
looking for a place to dig, working that site
He said that it caused a morale problem too. FDNY
firefighters on normal duty would see a television
interview with a firefighter from out of town
working at the site and wonder why they were not
allowed to search for their brothers too.
Norman described a monumental effort that involved
food and laundry and adapted work clothing and an
endless list of unusual needs. Around every corner
was a new problem to deal with. But in the end,
Norman said, the recovery effort produced only
three firefighter injuries that required
"In the beginning I didn't know how we were
ever going make it. But we got a lot of help from
our friends," Norman said.
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