FDNY to Review Procedures


MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Hoping to learn the lessons of Sept. 11, the Fire Department is conducting a major review of its procedures, looking at such issues as how to curb the kind of heroic impulses that led firefighters to rush into the burning World Trade Center without telling their superiors.

The study of departmental procedures, due out next month, is expected to propose roughly two dozen far-reaching changes in light of the terrorist attacks.

The findings are closely guarded, but experts interviewed for the study said they have discussed different evacuation techniques such as rooftop rescues, the need to protect senior officers by keeping them farther from the scene of a catastrophe, and the importance of tighter, more disciplined command procedures.

A total of 343 members of the Fire Department died on Sept. 11, though it is not clear how many of those deaths resulted from firefighters' headlong rush into the twin towers.

Management consultant McKinsey & Co. and New York fire officials conducted dozens of interviews and reviewed hundreds of pages of computer records and hours of radio transmissions.

"The goal is to look at what happened on Sept. 11 and to put forth recommendations for improving our response and operations in the event of any future catastrophic event,'' department spokesman Frank Gribbon said.

Researchers spoke with firefighters in Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and the city and county of Los Angeles. State emergency management officials in New York and California were interviewed, as were military personnel.

"These recommendations, I think, will have a profound impact on the department, if implemented,'' said Carlos Kirjner, the McKinsey partner overseeing the project. The consulting firm is working free of charge.

Kirjner and fire department officials declined to discuss the report's specific recommendations, and proposals could be altered or abandoned by the time the report is released. But some areas stand out in the preliminary discussions.

Although FDNY policy requires firefighters to report to a superior officer before attacking a fire, the rule was not strictly followed Sept. 11. In particular, dozens of off-duty firefighters went into the towers on their own.

As a result, fire officials say they still do not know how many firefighters were ordered into the twin towers, or where they died.

U.S. fire departments allow their firefighters far more freedom than their counterparts in many European countries, said Roger Klein, a fire engineering consultant based in Germany.

In Britain, he said, it would be unthinkable for fire personnel to enter a building before first checking in; one firefighter is assigned to keep track of how many others are inside and whether they have enough air.

Unregulated heroism is part of the U.S. firefighting culture, Klein said. In large part, it is why firefighters die at far higher rates in the United States than in Britain, he said. For every 100,000 firefighters on the job, between eight and 10 died in the line of duty in the United States each year between 1969 and 1999. In Britain, the number was about two.

"Any fire service would have lost a lot of people, but there's a general background to this _ that the risk-taking is higher in the U.S. that it is in Europe,'' Klein said.

Beyond the sheer loss of life, the department was devastated by the death of some of its most senior commanders, including Chief of Department Peter Ganci. A number of commanders were in the lobbies of the towers on Sept. 11, and others were stationed elsewhere in the trade center complex.

Fire departments have told the FDNY and McKinsey researchers that they would have stationed more senior commanders farther from the buildings.

Evacuation procedures have also been examined.

The FDNY did not evacuate people from the roofs of the twin towers, for instance, in contrast to procedures in Los Angeles, where building codes mandate helicopter landing pads on the roofs of high-rise buildings.

Smoke obscured the top of the south tower on the morning of Sept. 11. An airborne evacuation might have been possible at the north tower, but the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had long locked the doors leading to the roof for security, with the Fire Department's concurrence, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

"The idea of taking people off the top of the buildings is something we've done historically. That's a viable alternative for us, to evacuate people that are trapped above a problem,'' said Dean Cathey, assistant bureau commander of emergency services for the Los Angeles Fire Department.


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