Feds Prepare WTC Probe

Copyright 2002 Newsday, Inc.
Newsday (New York, NY)...06/25/2002

By Bryan Virasami. STAFF WRITER

A federal agency preparing to investigate the Twin Towers collapse fielded a wide range of technical suggestions as well as criticism from fire safety experts, victims' relatives and experts from across the country yesterday.

The relatively little-known National Institute of Standards and Technology will conduct a two-year investigation it says will help determine how and why the burning towers fell Sept. 11.

NIST officials said the investigation's goal is not to assign blame but to investigate the building's construction, its composition and conditions that contributed to the collapse.

They said their findings may help improve the way buildings are constructed and strengthen safety codes as well as precautions for fires and other emergencies at high-rise buildings.

"By far this is a disaster of unprecedented proportion and this investigation by far would be the largest we will have undertaken," said Mat Heyman, a NIST official.

While fire experts, academics and engineers asked the agency to look at specific concerns such as steel beams, fireproofing techniques and communications procedures, family members of victims pleaded with the NIST to put a human face on the probe.

Sally Regenhard, whose firefighter son Christian Regenhard died in the collapse, called on the NIST to include testimony from survivors, rescue workers and others who escaped from the towers.

"We want to have fact-finding, not fault-finding," Regenhard said. "My son was a person of great integrity."

Monica Gabrielle, who lost her husband, Richard, in the disaster, said investigators should also listen to 911 tapes, answering machine messages of workers and transcripts of news programs about Sept. 11.

She wondered whether her husband died because workers were told through the public-address system after the plane struck that it was safe to remain.

Speakers included a variety of professionals and trade group representatives, including civil engineers, a representative of the Portland Cement Association, retired firefighters and private consulting firms.

Some questioned the reliability in fire retardant over steel beams that support floors, while others discussed radio transmission and effectiveness of antennae in high-rises, location of exits and stairs, and whether new safety codes are needed.

"Please investigate the misconception people in high-rise buildings have that they can escape from a fire by going to the roof and wait for helicopters to rescue them," said Vincent Dunn, a retired Fire Department deputy chief.