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9/11 relatives are urging Congress
to probe issue of firefighter radios
They reject panel finding that problems with devices
were not a principal cause of FDNY deaths in Tower 1
Staten Island Advance - Wednesday, August 04, 2004
by TERENCE J. KIVLAN
WASHINGTON -- Rejecting the Sept. 11 commission finding that radio problems were not a primary cause of firefighter deaths in Tower 1 of the World Trade Center, some relatives are asking Congress to probe the issue.
"The fact is, their equipment betrayed them when they needed it most," Sally Regenhard of the Bronx told the House Committee on Government Reform yesterday.
Her son, Christian, was one of 343 firefighters who died at Ground Zero.
"You are our last best hope to provide an unbiased critical review of this significant issue," Mrs. Regenhard said.
"That part of the commission's report upset me," said Joan Molinaro of Eltingville, whose son, Firefighter Carl Eugene Molinaro, died at Ground Zero.
"I know from speaking with firefighters who were there that the radios did not work, that they did not get the orders to evacuate," she said in an interview from Staten Island yesterday.
An estimated 121 firefighters failed to get out of Tower 1 before it collapsed at 10:26 a.m., despite two evacuation orders from FDNY chiefs almost 30 minutes earlier.
Based on interviews with surviving first responders, the commission determined that, while many firefighters did not get radio transmissions of the orders, word of the order to evacuate was quickly spread by colleagues who had received the transmissions, and by police officers operating in Tower 1.
The commission said many firefighters stayed behind to continue aiding civilians and look for missing colleagues.
Mrs. Molinaro said she agreed that, whether their radios worked or not, many firefighters "would not have just left the civilians and started running, and they would not have left colleagues behind."
"But I do think a lot more of them would have made it out if they had gotten the evacuation notice," she said. "I just know they did not get it."
"What the commission seems to be saying is that firefighters are dead because they chose death," Mrs. Molinaro said. "I have a hard time with that."
Committee members didn't commit to backing a congressional inquiry, but indicated they would consider it.
"We hear you," Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) told Mrs. Regenhard.
Commission member Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator from Nebraska, said the panel relied on the judgment of commission staff members -- who investigated the radio issue -- to reach its finding.
"I listened to both sides' arguments, and I thought the staff had the better argument," said Kerrey.
The relatives also urged the House committee to approve legislation implementing the Sept. 11 commission's recommended reforms, including the appointment of a national intelligence director.
In other testimony, Kerrey and John Lehman, a Republican commissioner and former Navy secretary, called President Bush's proposal for the intelligence director a "good start," but warned it did not go far enough. Under Bush's plan, the director would not have the power to hire and fire or to control the nation's intelligence budget.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a member of the House committee, also criticized Bush's proposal, saying his intelligence director would be a mere "figurehead."
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