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
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.
Skyscraper Safety Campaign
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