9/11: Search and Rescue

By: Katherine Sweat

After American Airline Flight 11 was flown into World Trade Center 1 at 8.46am, emergency responders immediately raced to the scene to rescue people trapped by debris. Firefighters and medical responders promptly set up staging areas throughout West Street and were sent into the WTC 1 to evacuate people in the building. While rescue personnel worked tirelessly to save individuals in the North tower, panicking tenants in the South Tower were ordered by the New York Port Authority to stay in the building (a grave mistake considering the South Tower of the World Trade Center was hit by a hijacked plane at 9:03am). Some, however, did defy this command. Rick Rescorla, Morgan Stanely Security Director, evacuated people from the South Tower, saving thousands of lives when the United Airlines Flight 175 hit the second WTC. Just like Rescorla, many firefighters, doctors, and police officers on the scene rushed to assist as many people as possible; however, there were various problems with the organization of the search and rescue effort.

The chaos of the situation caused many officers and firefighters to forget to check in with their unit leaders before going into the Towers. Due to this, the head of the fire and police departments were unaware of all the whereabouts of their men and women. To worsen the situation, the radio communication was suffering from major interference; therefore, the firefighters inside the Towers couldn’t receive necessary evacuation orders, outside information, or report if they or someone else needed assistance. Because of the inability to communicate, many firefighters did not hear the evacuation order before the collapse of the WTC 2. Hundreds of rescue personnel were trapped or killed by the impact of the fall.

In the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center, search and rescue personnel, or “the pile”, dug through ground zero in hopes of saving anyone trapped in the debris. Luckily, most firefighters were wearing a PASS device (Personal Alert Safety System), a device that sent out a 9 decibel beep when it sensed that it’s owner had not moved in 30 seconds. The Personal Alert Safety System aided in the finding of the few deceased bodies left to give back to mourning families. It gave the people affected a greater sense of peace and a chance to say goodbye to those who lost their lives saving others. It also gave a few firefighters their lives back. The PASS device assisted in the rescue of 6 trapped firefighters. Along with those saved from Personal Alert Safety System, 5 others were pulled and rescued from ground zero.

Although many lives were spared on 9/11, which we as a nation should be immensely grateful for, it is important for us to remember the lives that were bravely given to save those in NYC that day. 343 firefighters, 23 NYPD officers, and 37 Port Authority officers were killed in the terrorist attack against the United States on September 11. May we take the time to commemorate and remember the people that valiantly gave their own lives to save another.

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