17.45 Dennis Smith Report from Ground Zero

ISBN 13: 9780452283954

Report from Ground Zero

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9780452283954: Report from Ground Zero

The tragic events of September 11, 2001, forever altered the American landscape, both figuratively and literally. Immediately after the jets struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center, Dennis Smith, a former firefighter, reported to Manhattan’s Ladder Co. 16 to volunteer in the rescue efforts. In the weeks that followed, Smith was present on the front lines, attending to the wounded, sifting through the wreckage, and mourning with New York’s devastated fire and police departments.

This is Smith’s vivid account of the rescue efforts by the fire and police departments and emergency medical teams as they rushed to face a disaster that would claim thousands of lives. Smith takes readers inside the minds and lives of the rescuers at Ground Zero as he shares stories about these heroic individuals and the effect their loss had on their families and their companies. “It is,” says Smith, “the real and living history of the worst day in America since Pearl Harbor.” Written with drama and urgency, Report from Ground Zero honors the men and women who—in America’s darkest hours—redefined our understanding of courage.

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About the Author:

Dennis Smith, a former New York City firefighter, is the founding editor of Firehouse Magazine and the bestselling author of eleven books, including Report from Ground Zero, Report from Engine Co. 82, and A Song for Mary. He is currently chairman of First Responders Financial Company.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue

September 11, 2001, 8:48 a.m.

For decades to come people will ask of each other, where were you . . . ?

     I am sitting with Arnold Burns, the chairman of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, talking about the needs of youth. I have known this former deputy attorney general of the United States for twenty-five years, and because I am on the board of a Boys & Girls Club in the South Bronx, I am also a member of his board of advisers. We happened to run into each other the way New Yorkers often meet, in unlikely places—in our case, sitting in a laboratory anteroom, waiting to have our blood drawn for annual exams. Suddenly, a nurse enters and exclaims that a plane has crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

     I look at my watch.

     It is 8:48 a.m.

     In Manhattan most people arrive at their offices ten or fifteen minutes early. Many have carried little white bags from local coffee shops, and are just now taking seats at their desks, anticipating the day's work. How many people are already in the World Trade Center? It must be thousands and thousands. What a terrible accident this threatens to be.

     I picture the firefighters now responding to the alarm. I know what they are thinking. They are thinking of conditions. For every fire, however, the conditions can never be truly imagined until you arrive on the scene. I remember that from all the alarms I have responded to in my own life. Thousands. Each time there is the anticipation. I never knew what would meet us at the alarm location, never knew what had to be done, just as these firefighters now do not know. A report of a plane's going into a building is just the first part of the story.

     I am a retired New York City firefighter, and an honorary assistant chief of department. Engine Co. 82 and Ladder 31 in the South Bronx, where I worked from 1967 through 1973, were then among the busiest fire companies in the city. I am on the board of directors of several fire-related not-for-profits, and I am chairman of a foundation that seeks to improve the health and safety of firefighters. I have never lost contact with my friends in the fire service since my retirement in 1981, and I feel still very much a part of "the brotherhood." Indeed, once a member of its ranks, I don't believe one ever leaves them. Friends call me "brother" all the time.

     At 9:03 I arrive home to find my wife, Katina, staring in shock at the television. Another plane has just gone into the south tower.

     The second crash leaves no doubt that we have been attacked, so many thoughts begin to flow through my mind. This is no accident. As every American must be doing at this moment, I wonder: Who would do this? Who could pull off something this horrendous? This is not as simple an act as parking a truck loaded with 7000 pounds of fertilizing chemicals in front of a federal building in Oklahoma City. No, this could only have been the result of the carefully plotted efforts of a group, and it would have to have been supported by a government or some organization with very big money. And people would have to have been willing to effect their own deaths. Like the kamikazes. But where were the kamikazes today? Just one place that I know of. Only the terrorists of the Middle East would do this. They had tried before, in February 1993, and now they have come back to try again.

     "I will give it a little time," I say, "and then I have to go down there."

     I know the drill, for I have been to similar emergencies. I can picture what the scene will be like at the crash site. It is a major disaster, and will be crowded with professionals—firefighters, cops, emergency medical technicians, nurses, and doctors. During the first hour of operations fire department personnel will be rushing from place to place. To an outsider it might seem like pandemonium, but it will be controlled and orchestrated by people who know fully what they are doing.

     Pumpers will be connecting to hydrants; ladder trucks will be positioning their aerial platforms; roof men, can men, irons men, and engine men will all be helping, lifting, carrying people out of the buildings. Chiefs of every rank will respond. There will be battalion chiefs who wear golden oak leafs, division chiefs who wear golden eagles, division commanders who wear one gold star, deputy assistant chiefs who wear two gold stars, and assistant chiefs who wear three gold stars. Each will have a specific job, each will direct personnel to preassigned duties in evacuation, rescue, or firefighting. The chief in charge, probably Pete Ganci, the chief of department, a circle of five gold stars on his collar, will be setting up his command post in accordance with prefire plans at the fire control panels in the lobby of the first building hit. He will begin to divide the emergency into grid sectors, and assign areas of responsibility. His aide chiefs will be generating blueprints, computer images of specific floor plans and elevator banks, prefire evacuation plans, and personnel assignments on each alarm transmitted. There will be lists of each of the three engine companies and two ladder companies that will respond to each alarm as it is transmitted. How many alarms will there be? I ask myself. Five alarms is normally as big as it gets. But this is not "normally." A situation requiring more than five alarms used to be transmitted during my years on active duty as a "borough call." But now the department's Starfire computer system not only makes the first five alarm assignments, but also tracks and moves the nearest ninety engine companies and forty ladder companies to the fire—a force equivalent to twenty-two alarms. Whatever it is called, it will be like a borough call, I think, and companies will come from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

     I wonder about the conditions. What is the heat like below the fire, going up to it? Heat rises, but there is also radiated heat to consider. How hot is it above? Will the men be able to do a search above the fire? What is the integrity of the stairwells? Can people get down from the floors above? What is the strength of the ceilings and floors?

     There are thousands of people working in those buildings. Will the evacuation be orderly? Is there enough room to carry equipment like stretchers, hose, Stokes baskets, generators, ropes, and ladders up the stairwells while hordes are coming down? These are all questions that must be going through the mind of the chief of department, if he is there, or the chief in charge, in addition to assessments of firefighting tactics. Is the standpipe system in working order? Is there electricity? Are there fail-safe generators? Are any of the elevators operable to at least get the hose and heavy equipment up? How will the wind affect the burning? Do we go in from the north side of the building or the south? What is the possibility of an inverted burn, in which fire travels downward in high-rise buildings? At which floors do I place my command stations? How many chiefs do I have? Where will I put the staging areas?

     The irony of "twin" towers does not escape me, for they present two major incidents to the fire department, one in each of the buildings. I know that rescue will be the paramount concern. Will this prove to be the most serious rescue operation in our history?

     Helicopters are certain to be dispatched to pick people off the roofs, but I wonder about the thermal columns. Can a helicopter get close enough to drop a rope and a man? If the fire is too great, they can't place the people on the street at risk if the chopper falls.

     I can see now on the television just how much fire is coming out of the buildings. Entire floors are involved. I've been in the World Trade Center many times, and I know precisely what is involved. There are many large areas with no interior columns, lots of open space for a fire to burn freely. This would be a five alarm call even if only one building were involved. Besides the helicopters, all the special equipment companies will respond—the hazmat team, the squad companies, the rescue companies, the mask service unit, the high-rise unit, the field communications units, the foam unit, and the fire boats. There will be no need of volunteers like me. This is a fire and rescue operation, and New York has twelve thousand firefighters. Within an hour, I am estimating, the operations will have been planned, the defenses put in place, and the rescues and evacuations will be under way. Thereafter, there might be a need for assistance both in caring for the injured and cleaning up.

     I am attached to the television as if every friend I ever had is about to cross the screen. The helicopter shots are mesmerizing. In my mind's eye I try to visualize what is happening in the towers as I see the flames shooting from their sides. How many have been killed by the impact of the planes, and how many have been burned by the fires? How many will be living, and how many will be dead? How many will be trapped on the fire floor, above the fire, and below the fire in collapsed areas? And the firefighters? How many flights of stairs will they have to run up, and how many minutes will it take them to reach the fire floors? How many firefighters are at this very minute racing into the buildings to get to those who need help?

     How many will be caught above the fires? It looks like there are ten stories above the fire in the north tower that haven't been hit directly by the plane, and maybe twenty-five stories above the fire in the south tower. Oh, my God, I cry to myself. How many people are on each floor? An acre each floor. Maybe two hundred or more? Thousands. And what will they do? Did the planes take out the fire stairs? The fire will go right up the wells, like a chimney. No one will be able to get to the roof. Maybe the only way they can be saved is by extinguishing the fire and bringing ladders in. That will take hours, maybe days. It is so hot above a fire. I have been there many times in the tenements of the Bronx, hot and dangerous. And if the stairs are out, the situation will be untenable. How many are trapped at this very moment, trying to come to grips with their own end?

     How many? It is a natural reaction to contemplate the numbers. But I know that I must think only of the individuals affected. Even one person is too many to be in the presence of such mortal danger, yet I know that fundamental to this terrible incident will be the numbers.

     The heat must be extraordinary, generated by airplanes with fuel-filled wings. I remember a question on the lieutenant's test of many years ago: What is the expansion factor of a one-hundred-foot steel beam as it reaches the inherent heat level of 1200 degrees Fahrenheit? The answer is nine and a half inches, and I try to gauge how hot this fire before me is burning. Is it intense enough to bring the steel to 1200 degrees? The smoke is first very black, indicating the burning fuel, and then white as it rises, indicating great heat. It is not a good sign. If the steel stretches, the floor will collapse, and that will only make the rescue effort more difficult.

     We are at the beginning of a war, I think as I begin to change my clothes. No one could send two planes into our largest buildings without a grander plan, and I fear there will be more to follow this disaster.

     I find an old Engine Co. 82 T-shirt, an FDNY sweatshirt, jeans, and heavy black hiking shoes. This is just about the same kind of uniform I wore when I used to work on Engine 82 in the days before bunker gear, neck protectors, sixty-minute air tanks, and personal alert devices. I make certain to bring my badge with the department's picture identification card, certain there will be tight security everywhere I go today.

     At 9:45 a third plane goes into the Pentagon, and I begin to make my way to a firehouse.

     The notion of an enemy's attacking us in the innocence of our early morning is repellent. The Pentagon—the very heart of our military strength. How could they have stolen these planes? The question vibrates within me. How could they have gotten onto our planes with guns or weapons? Why didn't someone notice what they were doing, or suspect them? But it is not like us, we Americans, to be suspicious. It is our optimism that prevents us from attributing evil intentions to others; it is our need to protect the rights of everyone that leads us to think the best of people. And that is our strength, actually; this basic freedom to walk around freely without suspicion makes America what it is. But it is that very attitude that also leaves us so vulnerable. One might argue that the price we pay to protect our freedoms is to be tolerant of strangers. All any American needs to do is to look around his community to recognize that we are indeed a nation of strangers. Our cultural diversity is so great that even our good friends and professional colleagues have cultural traits and assumptions that we do not share, or even understand. That is the way it should be in an open society. But how do I explain to myself, and to my children, that our freedoms have led to this horrible event?

     It angers me; I want to know whom to blame. I am certain, deep in my heart, that this attack is connected to the first attempt on the World Trade Center back in 1993. Ramzi Yousef, who planned that bombing, and his cohort, the blind sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, are today in federal prison. The sheikh has been in Springfield, Missouri, since 1995, serving several life sentences. Yousef was sentenced to 240 years in a maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado. I remember how defiant and remorseless they were, and that memory only serves to anger me even more.

     I can shake that feeling only by picturing the firefighters climbing up those stairs in the highest buildings in New York. It is a tough climb in any circumstance, but they will have mask tanks on their backs and hose and tools in their hands, equipment that will make them about sixty pounds heavier. It takes a person with exceptional commitment to do this, and I know it will not be easy for them. I am thinking about this as I go down the elevator in my building. How easy it is for some of us, and how difficult for others. On Lexington Avenue the streets are packed with people. The trains have stopped, the buses are not stopping at the bus stops. I must find some way to get down to the World Trade Center.

     A killing storm of terrorism has transformed our lives. We have been swept from a peaceful Tuesday into a calendar of war. New York, Washington, D.C., and a quiet green meadow in Pennsylvania have been attacked, and our fields are now strewn with the remains of heroes. All of us in the Western world a...

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Descripción Penguin Putnam Inc, India, 2003. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. The tragic events of September 11, 2001, forever altered the American landscape, both figuratively and literally. Immediately after the jets struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center, Dennis Smith, a former firefighter, reported to Manhattan s Ladder Co. 16 to volunteer in the rescue efforts. In the weeks that followed, Smith was present on the front lines, attending to the wounded, sifting through the wreckage, and mourning with New York s devastated fire and police departments.This is Smith s vivid account of the rescue efforts by the fire and police departments and emergency medical teams as they rushed to face a disaster that would claim thousands of lives.Smith takes readers inside the minds and lives of the rescuers at Ground Zero as he shares stories about these heroic individuals and the effect their loss had on their families and their companies. It is, says Smith, the real and living history of the worst day in America since Pearl Harbor. Written with drama and urgency, Report from Ground Zero honors the men and women who in America s darkest hours redefined our understanding of courage. Nº de ref. de la librería AAC9780452283954

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Descripción Penguin Putnam Inc, India, 2003. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. The tragic events of September 11, 2001, forever altered the American landscape, both figuratively and literally. Immediately after the jets struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center, Dennis Smith, a former firefighter, reported to Manhattan s Ladder Co. 16 to volunteer in the rescue efforts. In the weeks that followed, Smith was present on the front lines, attending to the wounded, sifting through the wreckage, and mourning with New York s devastated fire and police departments.This is Smith s vivid account of the rescue efforts by the fire and police departments and emergency medical teams as they rushed to face a disaster that would claim thousands of lives.Smith takes readers inside the minds and lives of the rescuers at Ground Zero as he shares stories about these heroic individuals and the effect their loss had on their families and their companies. It is, says Smith, the real and living history of the worst day in America since Pearl Harbor. Written with drama and urgency, Report from Ground Zero honors the men and women who in America s darkest hours redefined our understanding of courage. Nº de ref. de la librería AAC9780452283954

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Descripción Penguin Putnam Inc, India, 2003. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. The tragic events of September 11, 2001, forever altered the American landscape, both figuratively and literally. Immediately after the jets struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center, Dennis Smith, a former firefighter, reported to Manhattan s Ladder Co. 16 to volunteer in the rescue efforts. In the weeks that followed, Smith was present on the front lines, attending to the wounded, sifting through the wreckage, and mourning with New York s devastated fire and police departments.This is Smith s vivid account of the rescue efforts by the fire and police departments and emergency medical teams as they rushed to face a disaster that would claim thousands of lives.Smith takes readers inside the minds and lives of the rescuers at Ground Zero as he shares stories about these heroic individuals and the effect their loss had on their families and their companies. It is, says Smith, the real and living history of the worst day in America since Pearl Harbor. Written with drama and urgency, Report from Ground Zero honors the men and women who in America s darkest hours redefined our understanding of courage. Nº de ref. de la librería BTE9780452283954

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