Fire Dept. Lapses on 9/11 Are
Sat Aug 3, 9:08 AM ET
By KEVIN FLYNN and JIM DWYER
The Fire Department's response to the Sept. 11
attack at the World Trade Center, while brave and
aggressive, was plagued by problems in radio
communication, lapses in discipline and a lack of
coordinated efforts with the Police Department,
according to a draft report by an independent
The draft report by the consultant, McKinsey
& Company, concludes that problems with the
radio system caused commanders to lose touch with
many companies once firefighters ascended into the
towers. The lapses in discipline led firefighters
to rush to the scene without checking in with
commanders at designated staging areas.
Even members of the department's 32-member
executive staff exhibited too little restraint,
the report concludes, with 26 of them showing up
at the scene, a number of them without any defined
And the virtual absence of coordination with
police officials, the consultants say, meant that
fire commanders had no access to reports from
police helicopters that hovered above the
buildings, tracking their structural integrity and
the progress of fires across the upper floors.
"This lack of information hindered their
ability to evaluate the overall situation,"
the draft report says. The report, significant
parts of which were obtained by The New York
Times, acknowledges that the terrorist attack, in
which thousands of people were trapped by fires in
two of the world's tallest buildings, was an
overwhelming event that required an unusual level
But it states that to manage such events in the
future the department must improve its planning,
overhaul parts of its training, acquire
substantial new technology and coordinate more
effectively with other emergency agencies.
"We believe that the F.D.N.Y. cannot
adequately fulfill its mission to the citizens of
New York City unless the city or state governments
establish a formal effective process of
interagency planning and coordination," the
When it is released, perhaps as early as next
week, the report will conclude a painful process
in which department officials said they sought a
penetrating review of procedures that would point
the way to improvements without diminishing the
sacrifices or valor of firefighters who responded
The shortcomings identified in the report range
widely. The report concluded that some of the
department's senior chiefs had not received
routine training for up to 15 years. It found that
the department's effort to recall every
firefighter to active duty that day was
It said, too, that the department lacked any
formal way of working with neighboring fire
departments to coordinate coverage during an
And the department's Emergency Medical Service,
the report makes clear, had serious problems
deploying, tracking and controlling its ambulance
and trauma personnel.
The consultant, which specializes in reviewing
management practices, spent five months preparing
The draft says the team interviewed more than
100 experts on emergency response and reviewed
internal documents, including the transcripts of
radio transmissions. A separate team working for
the consultant has prepared a similar report for
the Police Department.
The management reviews were prompted in part by
the losses each agency suffered that day, in which
343 firefighters and 23 New York City police
A Fire Department spokesman, Francis X.
Gribbon, declined to comment on the draft report.
"The final report is not due to be completed
until sometime next week," he said. A
spokesman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Edward
Skyler, said the administration also had no
The 80-page report is written in a measured
tone, does not single out individual fire
officials for either praise or blame and suggests
that, in some respects, the department's response
It states, for example, that despite deploying
some 200 units to the World Trade Center, the
department was able to maintain adequate fire
coverage throughout the city. Response times to
fires that day rose by only one minute, to an
average of 5.5 minutes, the report says.
But the document focuses on an array of ways to
improve the various shortcomings that were exposed
on Sept. 11.
It urges the department to develop and abide by
a formalized system of what is known as incident
command to better direct strategy and share
information with other agencies.
It says the department must improve and expand
training and find the financing to expand its
hazardous materials and special operations
And it says the department must make senior
commanders and front-line firefighters more
accountable and perhaps subject to sanctions for
breaches of discipline.
The report also recommends that the department
speed up its review of new handheld radios, and if
they pass muster, distribute them for use by
firefighters in as little as four months.
The new radios were pulled from service last
year after an incident in which a firefighter's
call for help went unheard.
That decision meant that the department was
using old radios, some in use for more than a
decade, when it arrived at the trade center, the
Radio communications that day were sporadic,
the report concludes, and critical information was
apparently never received by firefighters on upper
floors in the building. The report, for example,
says that when Assistant Chief Joseph Callan
issued an evacuation order over the radios at 9:30
a.m. roughly an hour before the north tower
collapsed "there was no acknowledgment by
Similarly, when the south tower collapsed at
9:59 a.m., many firefighters did not realize the
magnitude of the disaster.
"Our interviews indicate that many
believed that a partial collapse within the lobby
of W.T.C. 1 had occurred," the report says.
Problems with radio communications in high-rise
buildings, as well as in subways, were well known
for years, the report says, but were never
satisfactorily addressed. To fix the problem, the
department should equip companies with portable
radio boosters they can use at high-rise fires,
the report says.
In addition, the report says, the city should
pursue changes in the building code that would
require high-rises to install equipment that would
help enhance the signal of fire radios.
The Emergency Medical Service, a division of
the Fire Department, also suffered communication
problems, the report says. Messages were lost
because too many people used the system, causing
congestion, according to the draft, and the loss
of effective radio communications contributed to
the agency's inability to measure its response.
"From 9:58 a.m. until at least
midafternoon on Sept. 11, E.M.S. chiefs and
officers did not have an accurate view of the
number and location of resources deployed to the
incident," the draft says.
The efforts to recall off-duty firefighters to
the scene were also weakened by a general
unfamiliarity with the process among firefighters.
Lacking specific instructions on where to report
when called in for duty, some went to their own
firehouse, others went to firehouses near the
trade center and still others responded to the
The consultants estimated that it will cost the
department $5 million to $7 million to retrain its
members on how better to respond to complex,
But such training will be ineffective, the
draft suggests, if the department is unwilling to
enforce its regulations and discipline
firefighters who do things like ignore
instructions to report to a particular staging
Over all, the draft says, the department needs
to be run with tighter standards.
"Accountability needs to be increased at
headquarters and in the field," the report
The report, in fact, appears to suggest that
some units responded despite instructions to
remain in quarters. As well, the report notes,
many off-duty firefighters joined their on-duty
colleagues in responding, in part because the
attack occurred so close to the change in shifts
As a result, the presence of many of these
firefighters was never officially recorded, a fact
that created confusion when the department began
to try to calculate its losses.
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