- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Fire Department yesterday released 12,000 pages of oral histories recorded by firefighters on September 11, and radio transmissions, a vast mine of records that evoked anew the chaos and horror of the attack.

Firefighter Kirk Long, whose Engine 1 was sent to the World Trade Center’s north tower — the first to be struck by a plane and the second to collapse — described rushing up a stairway as evacuees were coming down.

“I was watching every person coming down, looked at their face, just to make them happy that they were getting out and we were going in, and everything was OK,” Mr. Long said in his oral history.

Mr. Long said he heard the north tower shake and thought something in the basement had exploded.

“At that time I never knew that the south tower had gone down,” he said.

Some families and other critics of the city’s response have been hoping the new documents would help them challenge the conclusion that many firefighters in the north tower heard, but chose to ignore, an evacuation message issued after the south tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m.

At least one fire lieutenant quoted in the oral histories heard the call and saw his colleagues leaving.

Fire Lt. Gregg Hansson, whose Engine 24 was called at 8:47 a.m. — one minute after the first plane crash — described hearing the call to evacuate while he was on the 35th floor of the north tower.

“I was in the vicinity of the battalion chief, who was on the command channel, when I heard a Mayday given over the command channel to evacuate the building,” Lt. Hansson said in his oral history. “He started to tell everyone to evacuate, and I did also. I saw all the units get up, everybody got their gear, everybody started for the staircases to evacuate.”

Compelled by a lawsuit filed by the New York Times, the department made public 15 hours of radio transmissions and more than 500 oral histories describing the rush to the World Trade Center, which saved an unknown number of civilians and cost 343 firefighters their lives. In all, 1,749 persons died in the twin towers’ collapse.

At least 450 relatives of dead firefighters requested copies of the oral histories and radio recordings, and they received them by express mail yesterday, the fire department said.

Independent investigations with access to the documents already have described major flaws in the city’s response to the attack — emergency radios did not function properly, police and firefighters did not work together and vital messages went unheard.

The city had withheld the material, claiming the release would violate firefighters’ privacy and jeopardize the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, who ultimately pleaded guilty to conspiring with the September 11 hijackers.

In March, the state’s highest court ordered the city to release the oral histories and radio transmissions but said the city could edit out potentially painful and embarrassing portions.

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