Today marks 12 years since the September 11th attacks in which four passenger planes were hijacked to be flown into buildings as a suicide terrorist action by members of al-Qaeda Nearly 3,000 people (the exact number may never be known) lost their lives as a result of the attacks, in the planes, in the buildings and on the ground. This was the deadliest incident for firefighters in the history United States.
Two of those planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, were crashed into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City where most of the deaths occurred. Within two hours, both towers collapsed with debris and the resulting fires causing partial or complete collapse of all other buildings in the WTC complex, as well as major damage to ten other large surrounding structures.
A third plane, American Airlines Flight 77 was crashed into the Pentagon, leading to a partial collapse in its western side. The fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93 was heading for Washington, D.C, but crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after its passengers tried to overcome the hijackers and prevent their attack on the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
The New York City Fire Department deployed 200 units (half of the department) to the WTC site. Their efforts were supplemented by numerous off-duty firefighters and emergency medical technicians. The New York City Police Department sent Emergency Service Units and other police personnel, and deployed its aviation unit.
Once on the disaster scene, the FDNY, NYPD, and Port Authority police could not coordinate efforts and sometimes searched the same places twice for survivors.
As conditions deteriorated, the NYPD aviation unit relayed information to police commanders, who issued orders for its personnel to evacuate the towers; most NYPD officers were able to safely evacuate before the buildings collapsed. With separate command posts set up and incompatible radio communications between the agencies, warnings were not passed along to FDNY commanders.
After the first tower collapsed, FDNY commanders issued evacuation warnings; however, due to technical difficulties with malfunctioning radio repeater systems, many firefighters never heard the evacuation orders. Overwhelmed 911 dispatchers received information from callers that was never passed along to commanders on the scene.
Within hours of the attack, a substantial search and rescue operation was launched. After months of around-the-clock operations, the World Trade Center site was cleared by the end of May 2002. But even years later “the fog of profiteering, corruption and secrecy continues to whirl around the demolition and reconstruction of the World Trade Center site.”
In addition to those who died in the WTC attacks, hundreds of workers and volunteers, as well as neighborhood residents were diagnosed with cancer and other serious lung diseases as a result of inhaling toxic smoke.
Hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic debris containing more than 2,500 contaminants — including known carcinogens — were spread across Lower Manhattan due to the collapse of the Twin Towers. Exposure to the toxins in the debris is alleged to have contributed to fatal or debilitating illnesses among first responders and hundreds of volunteers who were at Ground Zero or came there to help.
The Bush administration ordered the EPA to issue reassuring statements regarding air quality in the aftermath of the attacks, citing national security, but the EPA did not determine that air quality had returned to pre-September 11 levels until June 2002.
In Manhattan, a week after the attack, Judith Le Blanc reported to the then-People’s Weekly World that many of the skilled volunteer workers were being utilized as support personnel as larger heavy equipment construction companies with union employees were brought into the search and rescue area.
“The volunteers shared their wisdom: Unity and solidarity can make us stronger. Mourning is not a cry for vengeance. Together we have to find a way out of the crisis. The Ground Zero solidarity can be turned toward the problems we will face in the days to come.”
Photo: Labor volunteers in Manhattan shortly after the collapse of the WTC. (Israel Smith/PW)
Slideshow below is by Teresa Albano/PW from Shanksville, Pa., ceremony in 2009.