New documents revisit agony of 9/11 attacks
Radio transmissions, firefighters' oral histories are made public

Updated: 12:33 p.m. ET Aug. 12, 2005

NEW YORK - The Fire Department on Friday released thousands of pages of oral histories recorded by firefighters about Sept. 11 and hours of radio transmissions, a vast mine of records that evoked anew the chaos and horror of the attack.

Firefighter Kirk Long, whose Engine 1 was sent to the north tower — the first to be struck by a plane and the second to collapse — described rushing up a stairway as evacuees were coming down.

"I was watching every person coming down, looked at their face, just to make them happy that they were getting out and we were going in, and everything OK," Long said in his oral history.

Long said he heard the north tower shake and thought something in the basement had exploded.

"At that time I never knew that the south tower had gone down," he said.

Another firefighter, Patrick Martin, said that after the south tower had collapsed and before the north tower came down, his lieutenant instructed him to go on a boat that was taking people to hospitals across the Hudson River.

"I told him I wasn't leaving," Martin said. "We were still missing one guy."

Over 500 oral histories of 9/11 attack released
Made public were 15 hours of radio transmissions and more than 500 oral histories describing the rush to the World Trade Center, which saved an unknown number of civilians and cost 343 firefighters their lives. In all, 2,749 people died in the trade center.

The New York Times, joined by families of Sept. 11 victims, sued the city in 2002 to release the records, which were collected by the Fire Department in the days after the collapse of the twin towers.

The city withheld them, claiming the release would violate firefighters' privacy and jeopardize the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, who ultimately pleaded guilty to conspiring with the Sept. 11 hijackers.

In March, the state's highest court ordered the city to release the oral histories and radio transmissions but said the city could edit out potentially painful and embarrassing portions.

In another oral history, fire Lt. Howard Hahn described using his cell phone that day but said his fire department radio was barely functioning.

"I was able to get through, but the transmissions was very hard," Hahn said. It was very hard to control. You're basically doing your own show."

Major flaws
Independent investigations with prior 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 Thursday 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.”

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

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