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FDNY Attacked Again At WTC; The Twin Towers Of Integrity And Trust
Provider: Raul A. Angulo
WRITTEN BY : Raul A. Angulo, DATE POSTED: 1/17/03

ABOUT THE WRITER: RAUL A. ANGULO is a 22-year veteran of the fire service. He started his career with the fire schools in the U.S. Coast Guard. His first job was brief as a firefighter with the Farmington Fire Department (New Mexico) and then was hired by the Seattle Fire Department (Washington) in 1980.

Captain Angulo is currently assigned to Engine Co. 33 and has a broad range of fire service experience including 911 communication, hazardous materials, truck and engine company operations. He is on the Advisory Board for FDIC-WEST, Board of Directors for National Fire Academy Alumni Association and president of the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters, Seattle-Puget Sound Chapter. He is an adjunct instructor at Seattle Central Community College and teaches NFA courses in fire service leadership and fireground strategy and tactics.


FOREWORD: The first attack on FDNY was at the World Trade Center (WTC) on September 11th. We sent our USAR team to Ground Zero, we flew to NYC for the memorials and we raised money for the widows and orphans. We’ve sewn on patches, stickered our helmets, and tattooed our bodies with a fraternal resolve that “We will never forget”. Paid and volunteer firefighters from all over the world were wearing FDNY and its ranks swelled to over 2 million firefighters in support. Seattleites everywhere from the Mayor to the newest member of Engine Co. 33 became friends and brothers to names like Nick Visconti, Jay Jonas and Joe Pfeifer, all chief officers of the FDNY who came to speak on the WTC in Seattle.

JANUARY 13, 2003: There was another attack on the FDNY, as well as every other firefighter from around the country who helped at Ground Zero. This attack came just 13 months after 9/11. The public trust and integrity of firefighters was attacked by journalist and author, William Langewiesche, pronounced (long-gah-VEE-shuh) in his new book titled “AMERICAN GROUND, Unbuilding the World Trade Center”, North Point Press/Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Now Chief Visconti and unions of the FDNY, the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association (UFOA) are asking for our support again.

Unlike most of the other 150 or so books published thus far about September 11th who honor the supreme sacrifice of the 343, this controversial book goes after the FDNY as a sacrosanct, sanctimonious organization who succumbed to greed, selfishness and divisiveness.

Langewiesche was one of the very few journalists who were allowed to wander the site almost completely unrestricted for more than six months. He undoubtedly witnessed more than most journalists and obviously prides himself for being a serious, “Geraldo-type” investigative reporter. One of his colleagues wrote of him “…he has worked so hard he has earned the right, among other things, to chip away at the halo that has hovered over the New York City Fire Department since September 11th”.

I’ll tell you what right he’s earned; he’s earned the right to tell the truth! Instead, he hurts and poisons the memories of the families and their loved ones by writing lies such as this:

“ Indeed, it became obvious from the traces where laptops had been, and from all the opened bags, that the room had been systematically rifled for valuables. Whether by errant firemen, policemen, or construction workers hardly mattered. All three groups were at various times implicated in a widespread pattern of looting that started even before the towers fell and was to peak around Christmas with the brazen theft of office computers from this very building.”

Regarding a bank vault, “ …attempts to pry open the vault’s doors and to cut it from above, in both cases unsuccessfully. It was never clear who the intruders were, where they had come from, or how they had proposed to get away through these ruins with more than just a few ingots. However, if the Unbuilding of the World Trade Center had already shown one thing, it was that the workers were resourceful and persistent.” Was this bank vault out in the open? There was mangled steel everywhere. Coming from above, could it have been a steel plate or a beam? How would workers know they were standing on a vault?

“...tensions flared especially over the differing treatment of human remains – on the one extreme, the elaborate flag draped ceremonials that the firemen accorded their own dead and on the other hand, the jaded “bag ‘em and tag ‘em’ approach they took towards civilians.” “...they treated their own with a reverence not afforded others.”

Langewiesche is either ignorant or inexperienced in understanding the responsibilities, duties and psychological survival mechanisms of those who have to deal with life’s tragedies.
Whether you are a police officer, a medical examiner, a trauma surgeon, combat soldier or a firefighter, we all have our professional slang words to describe the sometimes-unspeakable situations we are charged to deal with. Words like “slab, stiffs, crispy critters, shake and bake” are all words we use to mentally disassociate ourselves from the emotional trauma we encounter. We do this in order to perform our jobs. Otherwise we would fall apart and become emotional wrecks, impotent to apply any encouraging solution to a gruesome situation. This in no way implies callousness or disrespect to the victims, but rather is a psychological barricade to protect our emotional psyches so we can come out of the incident somewhat normal and ready for the next alarm. Can you imagine a surgeon going through the same grief and anxiety as that of the family in the waiting room while performing the operation under the guise of empathy and compassion? Of course not! In fact, the doctor can be talking about golf or any other subject under the sun while listening to music over the speaker system or what ever else might clear his mind to perform his job effectively without focussing that he is elbow deep in human entrails.

As for the flag ceremonies, with no disrespect to the victims, let’s not forget employees at the WTC were conducting business in the heart of world finance and commerce. Their business was not public safety.

The fire service, law enforcement and EMS are the only three I know of responsible for public safety. As WTC occupants were fleeing harms way, firefighters were confronting it. That’s the difference. I suggest that those called into this profession who would willingly lay down their lives, sacrificing everyone and everything dear to them, to save the life of a stranger is woven from a fabric of selflessness rather than selfishness. And I strongly suggest that those who would pursue base desires of unethical financial gain and booty would never be drawn to or subject themselves to the disciplines and sacrifices of the fire service.

From those I spoke with that were there, many firefighters had friends and family who worked at the WTC. It wasn’t easy to distinguish human remains much less if they were of a firefighter, civilian or otherwise. The mood was tenaciously somber and reverent.

It wasn’t a group of firefighters kicking around human debris like they were soccer balls. Chief Ray Downey was one of the last bodies to be recovered eight months after the attack. He could have been anywhere under the pile. That commitment alone…to find Chief Downey and bring him home would have kept the conduct of firefighters respectful and honorable till the final day.

“...looting for the first few months tarnished the WTC response. The looting was shadowy, widespread and unsurprising.”
“Firemen were said to prefer watches from the Tourneau store.”

In reference to the crew of Ladder Co. 4, “…its crew cab filled with dozens of new pairs of jeans from The Gap, a WTC store, tagged folded and stacked by size.” (All italicized quotes from the book, American Ground)

What garbage! What sewage! Are we to believe that Ladder 4 was looting The Gap before the towers fell? Did anybody see the documentaries “9/11” and HBO’s “ In Memoriam”? Did you see the concern and fear in their faces as jumpers were crashing to the ground with bone chilling booms? Do you seriously think firefighters are thinking about looting and “sweet opportunities” when civilians are running into the lobby on fire from jet fuel?

The crew of Ladder Co. 4 was still in the lobby. Their bodies were found six months later, clustered together as you would expect a disciplined company to be in a high rise fire. The Hurst tool lay among them along with the remains of a civilian woman. That would suggest Ladder 4 was in the midst of rescuing her when the tower collapsed. Their demolished rig was found in December. It was located 5 levels below grade! What bullshit! (Sorry. I can’t think of a more sophisticated word to print.)

It’s sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. I was told by the UFOA that Langewiesche was scheduled to have a book signing here in Seattle and they were asking for our support to respectfully champion the FDNY but we were unable to locate the event. Langewiesche was met with a barrage of challengers throughout the East Coast venues. His journalist supporters have abandoned him like rats off a sinking ship and Langewiesche has been back peddling and moon-walking to defend or clarify his factual errors in American Ground.

We cannot let this attack go unchallenged. Seattle and Washington State Firefighters were among those who served during this period where “…looting for the first few months tarnished the WTC response.” It seems ludicrous to even suggest this was going on. Ground Zero was probably the most supervised, televised, photographed, documented, monitored and secured emergency incident scene in recent history.

VIP’s, including President Bush, were coming in and out on a daily basis. Who would risk such career-ending foolishness?

My association with Fire Engineering and The Fire Department Instructors Conference, FDIC, has allowed me to personally know many fire and chief officers from the FDNY who were at the WTC. They are the most dedicated and honorable of firefighters. They are not looters and thieves. Of the other firefighters I personally know from around the country, including many from Seattle who were deployed to work at the WTC, their character and integrity is of the highest caliber.

This job is too good to give up for fancy wristwatches and chump change. People trust us. We are complete strangers who enter their homes at all hours of the night. We enter their lives in their most private and personal moments when they are vulnerable, but need our help. They blindly give us their trust. We immediately win their confidence simply by showing up wearing the uniform of a firefighter.

They allow us to enter their homes where other agencies would be unwelcome. They allow us to transport them from their homes and secure their front doors and personal possessions. Who else delivers such reliable assurance to the public except firefighters? In all my 23 years, I have never witnessed an accusation or a scandal where firefighters were accused of stealing private property from someone’s home or from an emergency scene. The public trusts us because they recognize we have integrity. And we must be quick to uphold and defend that which has taken over a century to establish. Hard earned integrity. Integrity is who we are in the dark…when no one is looking.

In the last election, Referendum 51 lost because the people lacked trust in our public officials to spend our tax dollars wisely. They lacked accountability and integrity. Initiative 790 on the other hand which dealt with LEOFF II pension reform, passed because the public trusts us. And part of that trust and respect was earned by the 343 FDNY firefighters who perished on September 11th. The entire fire service enjoys a new respect and admiration from the public that was wasn’t there prior to 9/11. We owe it to them to defend their honor and ours. We are truly one of the last of the noble professions.

Let this book die on the shelf. I would hate to see this man earn a dime in royalties from such a dishonorable account of vicious lies. I predict the book will meet with a backlash of criticism and will be a disastrous business venture for the publishers. If you see it in stores, as a firefighter you should voice your objection to the managers. But nevertheless, the book is out there and people may come up and ask you about it. Especially if you traveled to the WTC. So be prepared and become informed. To read more about this travesty called “American Ground, unbuilding the World Trade Center” and how it has been successfully challenged and refuted, sentence by sentence by numerous rescue workers who were also at the WTC, log on to WTC Living History Project Group at http://www.wtclivinghistory.org/ We will never forget. It’s a matter of integrity and trust.

Copyright: Emergency Grapevine

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