Skyscraper Safety Campaign - Public Speaking











Statement at City Council,
Committee on Fire & Criminal Justice Services

Before I begin, I would like to say that my comments today are directed at the administration and management of the New York Fire Department and the City of New York and in no way are meant to disparage the rank and file of the NYPD.

Good afternoon. My name is Monica Gabrielle and I am Co-Chair of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign.

My husband, Rich, worked for Aon Corporation at 2 World Trade on the 103rd floor. He was last seen waiting for an elevator on the 78th floor Sky Lobby. He was injured when the second plane's wing tip crashed through that floor. He was thrown, the marble walls collapsing on him, crushing his legs and preventing him from continuing out to safety. He was alive waiting to be rescued. He did not make it out. He was killed on September 11th when the buildings collapsed. He has not been recovered.

During this past year, since the attack and subsequent collapse, I have been searching for answers ... Why were there so few options for those innocent people trapped in those awful buildings? Why were doors locked? Why was the roof door locked? Who thought it would be wise to protect the emergency egress of 110 story buildings with gypsum board on the walls of the stairwells? Who thought it would be a great idea to save space and cluster the stairwells in the core of the building, also constructed with gypsum board? Why were ALL of the elevators not working? Why? Why did those awful buildings not stand longer, giving Rich and 2800 building occupants an opportunity to get out?

I now know that at least two fire fighters reached the 78th floor of Tower 2. They were coordinating a rescue. My husband and others were in the process of getting OUT! If only those towers had stood longer, if only those towers had not been constructed of experimental lightweight steel that was lightly coated with spray-on fireproofing, which unevenly adhered. If only ... if only ... perhaps I wouldn't be here now asking questions.

The '93 bombing of the World Trade Center was a very real wake up call to the City of New York with regard to potential terrorist threats. I am here today to address issues relating to the emergency response of the fire department on September 11th, and the need for critical change to a system that betrayed not only me, but also all citizens. I am deeply concerned about the information that has come to light in the past year regarding the fire department's inoperable radios, lack of coordination with the police department and other emergency agencies, and unfamiliarity with the WTC/Port Authority buildings. I am also amazed to hear that 9/11 was an unforeseen event, when in actuality, the terrorists swore that they would be back to finish the job after '93. Those towers were a target for years. What measures were taken to ensure the safety of the occupants? What was the response plan for the various agencies? Where was the preparedness?

It is apparent to me that Fire Science, both academic and applied, needs to play a more important role in the development, design and construction of buildings. They, the fire service, can no longer be left on the sidelines to come into the game only after the buildings are up, left to figure out how best to defend and evacuate them in an emergency, whether a routine fire or a catastrophic event. The fire service needs to have a very loud voice in the evacuation and life safety of potential occupants. The fire service needs to have a voice in how to equip a building to maximize time and energy and to lower the potential for loss of life, both uniform and civilian. The fire service needs to work hand in glove with developers, architects, and engineers from the start of a building project. Their input regarding safety is essential.

We can NEVER again allow a building to be built that is immune from building codes and fire codes, like the Port Authority with its arrogant attitude. Can anyone explain, how in God's name having fire proofing falling off in sheets around the steel in the elevator shafts and coming off in chunks - off the lightweight steel trusses - how that condition alone can be described as meeting and exceeding code requirements as the Port Authority claims?

Contrary to the misinformation that is out there, the fire service had no authority over those buildings. Whatever recommendations they made or whatever faults they found - they could do nothing! The Port Authority did not have to comply! They were and are immune from any intervention by any agency. This must change immediately! The Port Authority is either charged with having to fully comply with building codes and New York fire codes or they must get OUT of the real estate business and back to the transportation business where they belong.

The fire service must be able to complete a full evaluation of a building and have a full understanding of the building's vulnerabilities. This is absolutely necessary! BEFORE the building is occupied! How else can we be sure that they will know where to go first, where the weakest point is, how best to eliminate needless deaths?

Regarding the establishment of an integrated, Unified Command System - The City of New York must mandate by law and prohibit the unwillingness of the police department, fire department and other agencies to work together. How many more lives might have been saved? The continuous turf wars between the various emergency agencies must cease. These agencies are charged with the safety of the public and need to quickly learn to work together. The lives and safety of our loved ones are at stake. We must put aside the competitive nature that has been in place for many, many years. No more excuses about the way it's always been. We must realize that the first and foremost responsibility is the safety of the public, not the egos that get in the way of the job these agencies are charged with.

I was also deeply disturbed to find that there was no helicopter rescue available to those trapped on the upper floors of the towers. When was the decision made to no longer attempt rooftop rescues? Who made that decision? What was that decision based on? When was that decision conveyed to the occupants of those towers? It has been written that many occupants of the World Trade Center were confident in believing that in case of an emergency or devastating fire, they could be rescued from the roof. Instead, many found that the doors were locked leading to their eventual doom. The fire department must work in conjunction with the police department every day. They must be prepared for any eventuality. Outside the box options must be looked at. Has anyone thought of looking to our military for options? They have had to perform many rescue evacuations!

It is clear to me that there has to be a very concerted effort made to take a hard look at what happened on September 11th. We need to find ways to work together ... each agency charged with the life-safety of the citizens of New York ... to ensure that if there is EVER another devastating event ALL concerned will be aware of what needs to be done and can communicate those instructions and dangers to others.

I keep hearing the words "Lessons Learned." Rather than lessons learned, we demand responsibility and accountability from the state and city government that allowed these buildings to be built with total immunity to NY Building & Fire Codes, that allowed them to stand with no evacuation or fire plans. We demand responsibility and accountability from the administration of the City of New York that was responsible for the coordination of emergency services on that horrific day. It is up to you, the City Council, to call for this responsibility and accountability. The horrible death of my husband and the 2800 other innocent souls demand it. We await your action.

Thank you.

Monica Gabrielle
Skyscraper Safety Campaign


Sally Regenhard,

P. O. Box 70
Woodlawn Station
Bronx, NY 10470

Monica Gabrielle,

P. O. Box 70
Woodlawn Station
Bronx, NY 10470