Interview with Charlie Vitchers
This transcript is based on videotaped interviews conducted by Great Projects Film Company for the documentary "America Rebuilds: A Year at Ground Zero," and has been edited lightly for readability. The interviewer's questions have not been included; the interviewee's initials indicate where answers to questions begin.
Charlie Vitchers (CV): There's an overwhelming request outside the job site for what's actually happening down there... A lot of the people I know. You know, they read the paper and they want a little more detail than they're getting out the paper but
You got to steer away from that. A lot of that stuff is just personal.
CV: My role here began as a superintendent. I was taken off of another job site on September 11th and asked to come down and assist in the recovery operations for my boss, Jim Abadie. I came down here on a supervisory role to give any kind of assistance that I could.
CV: My role did change. When I first came down here, I was asked by one of the general supers who was here on the original assessment. I was introduced to a fellow, Nick Brezzizi who was the General Super at the time. He was one of the initial guys down here out of three. It was Jim Abadie, Mike Marone, and Nick Brezziz and when I arrived Nick Brezziz just asked me a very simple question. He said, "What's your name?" I said, "Charlie Vitchers." He said, "Okay, Charlie, what do you do?" My answer to him was, "I do just about anything, Nick." I said, "What do you want me to do?" And he said, "Well just for now, go out there and do whatever it is that you do best." And there was really a lot of chaotic state going on at the time between just the logistics of getting grapplers in the right positions and finding out what teams of firemen were set up where. There were different squads of guys that were trying to find a meaningful way to approach certain areas of the debris pile where they felt that there was a lot of recovery. So basically getting a handle on who was who, with the uniformed service, finding out who the actual commanders were, giving them a point of contact, which I gave them all my own cell phone number. We even handed out radios to some of these guys and said, "Listen, if you need anything from the construction industry, get a hold of one of these guys -- anyone of the guys that are on my list." And we handed out a list of names, the supervisors and personnel that we had on site from all the different contractors. And that's how we really got rolling into it.
CV: On September 11th, I was uptown at 59th and 6th Avenue. It's Central Park South and it was the renovation of the Ritz Carlton Hotel. I was on that project at the time and my function there was I was building the upper house new construction. It was a demolition of the building from the roof, which is about 37th floor down to the 28th floor -- complete removal and a complete rebuilt because of the deterioration of the steel over the years. It was a very old building and it was being refurbished to be turned into a hotel. The upper floors were the residential suites, which were being constructed. And I was the Senior Superintendent on that project, working for a General Superintendent up there.
CV: I haven't been back there to do any physical work but I have gone up there on occasion to see the guys that I left up there. And just to take a look at what the final product was. You kind of miss not being able to close out the job. I was there for the topping off of the steel party that we had. But, no, I haven't really spent any time up there. I've been pretty much down here.
CV: It was a catastrophe. Just walking down West Street, coming in here on the 11th and watching the fires, watching the buildings still burn, watching cars that were still on fire, seeing full fire engines that looked like Tonka trucks that someone had run over with a car. It was devastating. Emotionally, the first couple of minutes when I got down here and it took a minute to compose yourself to the realization that this has happened. Then we had to do something about it and to try and bring some kind of coordinative effort on the construction end to work in concert with this catastrophe that happened, just try to bring some organization to how we were going to move forward and approach the recovery.
CV: My first thoughts when I came down a little further into the site, south of Chambers Street, was, "Where am I?" I didn't recognize it. Obviously, the towers were gone. The only thing that remained standing was a section of the Vista Hotel. Building 7 was on fire. That was ready to come down. There were warnings all over the place, just stay clear of the site until the assessment team of engineers and the DDC and their construction managers that got down here first had done a complete assessment of the job site. They were trying to decide what to do themselves. It was just a very, very tough site to deal with. I didn't know where I was. I walked straight down to Albany Street. Bovis had set up a temporary unit in the World Financial Center Building number one, a parking garage, and I couldn't find it at first. It probably took me about thirty minutes to get my bearings walking down West Street and just stopping to look at what was actually happening out there. It was a phenomenal emotional event.
CV: When I first came down here my role was basically to go out and find out what was needed and how Bovis could help out. I found out the next morning when I arrived that they had already had a full twenty-four hours since the buildings came down with non-stop efforts, where nobody slept. The Department of Design and Construction was headed up at the time and still is by Michael Burton who did a phenomenal job on bringing the different contractors together. You had Tully, which I understand was working in the area doing some renovation of the roads. You had Tishman, who was already engaged in some work in building 7. Building 6, they had established parameters down here. You had Bovis working down at what we called site one, which was the Millennium Hotel down in Battery Park. And AMEC was called in. So Michael Burton and his staff from the DDC called, I would say the major players of New York City construction, together to get an assessment of what we all thought and how the team would come to approach it. They did a very good job in organizing, by breaking the site up into basically five segments. Building 7 debris was given to Tishman. The northwest corner of the site was given to AMEC. The northeast section of the site was given to Tully. And the southwest corner of the site and Tower 2 debris removal was given to Bovis. It was basically just on a quadrant so that we could all set up site at each corner of the site. I think the long-term objective at that time was to just get everybody down here and get all of the most talented people that you have move forward and address all of the situations that we had to address: setting up triage stations, setting up temporary morgues, supplying the demand for tools, radios, and whatever was necessary down there. There was a point of contact at each quadrant of the job site. And that was a decision that I believe the DDC had come up with as the best way to approach the job and it ended up being very successful to begin the job.