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Fire Chiefs May Be Leery of Top Floors

Skyscrapers: Retired New York commissioner says strategy will change in at least one regard.

April 28, 2002|From Associated Press

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Because of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, fire chiefs around the world will be less likely to send firefighters to the upper floors of burning skyscrapers, the former fire commissioner of New York City said Saturday.

Otherwise, strategies for battling such fires are unlikely to change much after the terrorist attacks on the twin towers, said Thomas Van Essen, who retired in January.

"If there was a fire today in a high-rise in New York City, we would respond in the way we have for the last 30 years," he said before addressing a New Jersey City University forum on the trade center disaster.

"This tragedy was so overwhelming that no one could have predicted that, within an hour and a half, both these buildings would collapse," he said. "No one prepares for jet planes crashing into their buildings."

Many of the 343 firefighters killed at the trade center were trying to evacuate people from upper floors of the twin 110-story skyscrapers.

"If you have something of this enormity, if the [Sears] tower in Chicago got hit by an enormous jet plane, the chiefs handling the fire will be very wary about sending people up to such high floors," Von Essen said.

The trade center attack also highlighted the need for better radio communication for firefighters, Von Essen said. He noted that many of the firefighters who died in the collapse never heard the order to get out.

He added that Sept. 11 also demonstrated the importance of having more than one water source for sprinkler systems. The jetliners that crashed into the twin towers sliced through the vertical pipes that were the sole source of water for sprinkler systems.

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