Families brace for release of 9/11 documents
Radio transmissions, firefighters' oral histories to be made public Friday


Updated: 8:32 a.m. ET Aug. 12, 2005

NEW YORK - Families and colleagues of firefighters lost on Sept. 11, 2001, were preparing to revisit the chaos and loss of the day with the release of hours of radio transmissions and thousands of pages of firefighters’ oral histories.

Compelled by a New York Times lawsuit, the Fire Department of New York planned to make public Friday 15 hours of radio transmissions and more than 500 oral histories recounting the rush to the World Trade Center towers that saved an unknown number of civilians but cost 343 firefighters their lives.

The information may cast additional light on the problems that contributed to the death toll. It’s also certain to bring back searing memories, and renew the nation’s appreciation of the firefighters’ sacrifices, said Peter Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.

“I think unfortunately it’s going to add to some pain, initially. For some people it might have a very healing effect,” Gorman said. “When people actually go back to that raw, emotional, historical moment, I think they’ll realize that a lot of our members, both living and deceased, did some extraordinary things that day.”

Sally Regenhard still does not know exactly where her son, Christian Regenhard, died that morning.

“Maybe there will be something on there that gives me a clue as to what happened to my son,” she said. “I have not heard where he was sent, when he was sent, what he was supposed to accomplish when he went in.”

Major flaws
Independent investigations with access to the documents have already described major flaws in the city’s response to the terrorist attack. Emergency radios did not function properly. Police and firefighters did not work together. Discipline broke down. Vital messages went unheard.

Some families and other critics of the city’s response hope the new documents will help them challenge the conclusion that many firefighters in the north tower heard but heroically chose to ignore an evacuation message issued after the south tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m.

But Glenn Corbett, a professor of fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said he believes outdated radios prevented many firefighters from receiving that vital message. He said he did not find it credible that perhaps hundreds of firefighters ignored a mayday message from their commanders.

“I’m going to look for the people saying that in those transcripts,” he said. “I don’t believe it. I just don’t believe that.”

Regenhard and other victims’ families joined The New York Times in suing the city in 2002 to release the radio transmissions and oral histories collected by the fire department in the days after the towers’ collapse. The city argued that releasing the information would violate firefighters’ privacy and jeopardize the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty in April to six counts of conspiring with the Sept. 11 hijackers.

New York’s highest court ruled in March that the city had to release the oral histories and recordings but could excise potentially painful and embarrassing portions.

At least 450 relatives of firefighters killed in collapse have requested copies, which they will receive by express mail Friday, the fire department said.

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