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Thread: Sept. 11 Tape Could Hold Some Clues to Firefighters' Deaths

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    Sept. 11 Tape Could Hold Some Clues to Firefighters' Deaths

    Sept. 11 Tape Could Hold Some Clues to Firefighters' Deaths

    By KEVIN FLYNN and JIM DWYER


    Ten months after the Sept. 11 attacks that left 343 firefighters dead, and five months after fire officials undertook a study of just what happened, the Fire Department has yet to review a potentially critical trove of information: a tape of radio transmissions among firefighters at the World Trade Center that morning.

    Officials with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said they found the tape at ground zero last January or February and offered it to the Fire Department. For a variety of reasons, however, the two agencies have never agreed to terms on sharing the tape, and so fire officials have to this day never listened to perhaps the only lasting record of conversations between the commanders and firefighters who were lost in the twin collapses.

    The tape, in the end, may provide answers to some of the lingering questions about what happened to fire companies that perished after ascending into the towers

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    FDNY BRASS HEAR SECRET WTC TAPES

    FDNY BRASS HEAR SECRET WTC TAPES


    By DAVID SEIFMAN, PHILIP MESSING and BRIAN BLOMQUIST

    July 11, 2002 -- Senior FDNY officials yesterday listened to an hourlong 9/11 tape of World Trade Center radio transmissions found early this year, but would not disclose what it revealed about the final moments of their lost brethren.

    The Port Authority released the tape to the Fire Department after top fire brass agreed to keep its contents under wraps at the behest of federal prosecutors in Virginia, who plan to use a copy at the trial of accused "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui.

    "This is an important case and we don't want to jeopardize it," said a senior fire official.

    There was some hope the tape would answer lingering questions about how high fire companies got in the towers, the problems they encountered and how many heard the evacuation order issued before the towers fell.

    Surviving firefighters have said they didn't hear the order - which some officials attribute to a faulty radio signal-boosting repeater mounted in a nearby building.

    FDNY Capt. Pete Gorman, head of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said he was troubled that the department didn't arrange to listen to the tape earlier, while recovery efforts were still underway at Ground Zero.

    "If they had heard a certain ladder company was on a certain floor of either tower, that might have told us where we could find them in the ruins," he said.

    Gorman also was puzzled about the need for confidentiality, noting, "This is chitchat from firefighter to firefighter."

    Moussaoui's fired public defender agreed, and said he doesn't believe the confidentiality order applies to New York.

    "It doesn't prevent the owner of the information - if they want - from giving it out," said Frank Dunham.



    http://www.nypost.com/news/regionalnews/52316.htm

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    Sept. 11 Tape Heard in Secret in Fire Inquiry

    Sept. 11 Tape Heard in Secret in Fire Inquiry

    By JIM DWYER and KEVIN FLYNN


    Amid concern about the scope and depth of an inquiry by the Fire Department into its Sept. 11 response, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday that fire officials would immediately listen to taped radio transmissions among firefighters at the World Trade Center that were discovered five or six months ago but never played.

    At the same time, the mayor found no fault with the department for not listening to the tape, even though the consultant retained to examine the department's performance has already completed a draft report on its response that day.

    Yesterday afternoon, two fire chiefs listened to the tape in an office of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the owner of the World Trade Center.

    Before the tape rolled, they had to sign a confidentiality agreement at the request of federal prosecutors in Virginia, according to Allen Morrison, a spokesman for the Port Authority. The tape may be used as evidence in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the man accused of plotting to be the 20th hijacker.

    Francis X. Gribbon, the main spokesman for the Fire Department, said the agency would not discuss what the chiefs had heard on the hourlong tape, and that even to discuss whether the tape contained valuable information would violate the agreement.

    "They listened to the tape and signed a confidentiality agreement," he said. "Whatever they heard is not going to be characterized. We view this as a strict confidentiality agreement and we will not discuss it with the media."

    The decision to quickly review the long-neglected tapes came as current and former fire officials, as well as some family members of the 343 firefighters who died at the trade center, questioned just how hard and in what detail the Fire Department was looking at the successes and failures, problems and lessons of that day.

    Those expressing concern about the inquiry, including the former fire commissioner, say the consulting firm of McKinsey & Company, retained by the department to conduct its inquiry into the Sept. 11 response, has not reviewed all the accounts of firefighters from that day, and has not met with officials of the Port Authority to determine what information is available.

    Thomas Von Essen, who served as fire commissioner from 1996 until the end of last year, said he could not understand why the investigators had not listened to the tapes, which were discovered earlier this year in the rubble of 5 World Trade Center.

    "It doesn't inspire confidence that this inquiry is going to very searching or very deep," Mr. Von Essen said.

    At the same time, the Fire and Police Departments are each making separate inquiries, and one problem already identified by senior officials was the failure to integrate efforts by the two forces that day.

    Mr. Bloomberg said yesterday that his administration had taken steps "to increase communications and cooperation between the Police Department, the Fire Department." The studies by the two departments will provide ways to improve equipment, training and planning, the mayor said.

    "And we'll try to learn something from this," Mr. Bloomberg said. "But we're listening to the tapes. There are a variety of reasons why it just takes some time to get to that."

    Later, when asked if the mayor was disappointed that it had taken nearly half a year for the Fire Department to review a tape that may contain critical information from its most devastating day, Edward Skyler, a spokesman for the mayor, said: "He doesn't have a problem with the procedures and process used by the Fire Department."

    Monica Gabrielle, whose husband, Richard, an insurance broker, was killed in the collapse of the south tower, said that the inquiries by both agencies faced fundamental problems, and that she hoped that a planned federal investigation would have a greater reach, including the experiences of the 2,300 civilians who were killed at the trade center.

    "You're asking the agency to investigate itself," said Ms. Gabrielle, who has been a leading voice among victims' relatives in calling for a full inquiry. "It has got to be done by an outside party, someone that can look at it objectively, what went wrong, and why it went wrong."

    The current fire commissioner, Nicholas Scoppetta, hired McKinsey & Company in February. Senior officials said that before Mr. Scoppetta learned that the tape existed, a number of deputy commissioners had decided not to get a copy from the Port Authority because of concerns that the tape might be made public.

    Under Commissioner Scoppetta and Mayor Bloomberg, the Fire Department and the city's Law Department have taken the position that **** history interviews of firefighters about the events of Sept. 11 are secret documents that can never be disclosed to the public.

    Mr. Gribbon said it was unfair to suggest that the department was anything but committed to discovering any lapses in its practices.

    "The purpose of the McKinsey report," Mr. Gribbon said, "is not to uncover every detail, every piece of evidence, every fact relating to Sept. 11. It was meant to be a comprehensive and thorough review of the department's response and operations at a catastrophic event and to propose substantive modifications in policy for future large-scale emergencies."

    He said that until the final report is released, Mr. Von Essen and other critics should hold off. "The report is not yet complete, and it is a bit presumptuous for anyone to prejudge it," Mr. Gribbon said.

    The policies of Mr. Von Essen could come in for some criticism in the report, a point the former commissioner acknowledged. "I make mistakes," he said. "You have to learn from your mistakes."

    Beyond the specifics of the report, Mr. Von Essen noted that the unheard tape could have been useful during the arduous recovery efforts. The department had no records of the final locations of many of the firefighters killed that day.

    Most important, he said, is that the tape might open a window onto the actions of firefighters during their last minutes, opening an unseen world to families that have had no answers for months and months. He noted that the tape had already been turned over to the defense in the trial of Mr. Moussaoui.

    "How absurd is it that the accused conspirator Moussaoui has the opportunity to listen to these tapes, and the widows of our firefighters and fire officers have not at least had that same opportunity?" Mr. Von Essen asked.



    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/11/nyregion/11FIRE.html

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