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Heroes of Ground Zero

Timeline of Tragedy

September 11, 2001

8:46 a.m.
American Airlines Flight 11 crashes into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Eighteen fire companies begin responding to a fifth alarm, setting up a command post in the lobby of the north tower when they arrive.

United Airlines Flight 175 crashes into the south tower of the WTC. Another command post is set up in south tower, as a second fifth alarm is broadcast.

Over thirty more companies have arrived, and a third interior command post is set up inside the Marriott Hotel, located by the base of the north tower. Meanwhile, an exterior command center has been set up on West Street. Top-level fire chiefs send units into the towers from here.

Three fire companies have reached the 40th floor of the south tower via an elevator.

From the north tower command post, Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Callan orders all units down to the lobby over the radio. He gets little to no response.

Another fifth alarm is broadcast. The Marriott command post mistakenly dispatches four companies to the north tower instead of the south. The slip-up winds up saving lives.

Battalion Chief Orio J. Palmer and Fire Marshal Ronald P. Bucca have reached the impact zone on the 78th floor of the south tower. Palmer radios to Chief Edward Geraghty that they are sending a group of injured survivors to the tower's only working elevator on the 41st floor.

Dozens of firefighters near the south tower command post are still waiting in the lobby for orders to go up into the tower.

A warning about the towers' instability is issued from the Fire Vehicle Staging Area, where emergency vehicles from Brooklyn have gathered and wait for orders.

On the 35th floor of the north tower, some firefighters hear a cry of "mayday! Evacuate the building" over the radio, and four companies begin to descend. Around the 28th or 30th floor, a crowd of resting firefighters is told to evacuate.

Meanwhile, the south tower collapses.

Battalion Chief Joseph Pfeifer radios an evacuation order that is received by some chiefs in the north tower, but not all.

A firefighter on the 65th floor radios that a nearby floor has collapsed. This is the highest floor a firefighter is known to have reached in the north tower.

Firefighters, court officers, and other witnesses find group of firefighters, according to some estimates as many as a hundred, catching their breath on the 19th floor. Most in the north tower are not aware that the south tower has already collapsed. Told to evacuate, many of the firefighters say they'll come down "in a minute."

The north tower collapses, bringing down the Marriott Hotel as well. Over a third of the firefighters lost were in the north tower, and some were still in the lobby of the Marriott directing evacuations.

5:20 p.m.
Damaged by the collapse of the towers, Building 7 of the World Trade Center collapses.

September 12
Six firefighters are rescued from the World Trade Center debris. After contacting emergency officials with cell phones or radios, the firefighters were pulled out by rescue workers who had dug through concrete and iron to reach them.

September 13
Firefighters who have worked their 24-hour shift are told to go home, but they refuse to leave. Two firefighters who were searching through the rubble of the World Trade Center become trapped in an air pocket before they are rescued hours later.

September 14
An estimated 200 firefighters are believed to be missing. President Bush visits the site, and heavy rain turns the disaster site into a big mud pit. Memorial services are held at National Cathedral in Washington D.C.

September 15
152 bodies have been recovered, including 18 city firefighters, three Port Authority police officers, two emergency medical technicians, and a New Jersey firefighter, 92 of which have been identified. The first firefighter funerals take place: Chief of Department Peter Ganci; William Feehan, the department's first deputy commissioner; Father Mychal F. Judge, the fire department Chaplain, who died while administering last rites to a firefighter mortally wounded in the Trade Center collapse.

September 16
FDNY promotes 168 firefighters. "No one really wants to be here. No one really wanted to be promoted,'' says Jerry Horton, who became a captain during the ceremony.

September 17
According to the FDNY, the number of missing firefighters is at 343.

September 23
"A Prayer for America'' memorial service is held at Yankee Stadium. The nationally televised event was intended especially for the families of victims and the rescue workers.

September 24
The International Association of Fire Chiefs requests that the nation's fire and emergency service agencies fly their flags at half-staff and shroud their badges until October 11th, marking a thirty-day period of mourning for the rescue workers lost in the terrorist attacks. Workers find a ten-foot-long piece of jetliner fuselage.

September 25
Mayor Giuliani says "the chances of finding anyone will involve a miracle," but "miracles have happened.''

September 28
A Morgan Stanley Dean Witter safe containing $2.7 billion in stocks and bonds is found. Meanwhile, crews working in the World Trade Center ruins have begun assembling giant cranes -- one is 420 feet tall -- capable of lifting hundreds of tons of debris at a time. So far, 305 deaths have been confirmed.

October 1
Searchers find 18 bodies, including fourteen firefighters, most of whom are still in full gear.

October 4
In a mass held at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani honors fallen Fire Captain Terence Hatton, who earned 19 citations for bravery during 21 years on the job. The New York City comptroller, Alan Hevesi, states that the cost to New York from "the crash, the attack, the calamity, the murder" is already $45 billion and will reach $105 billion over the next two years.

October 6
24 funeral services for firefighters lost in the attacks are held today alone.

October 9
The last of some 350 search and rescue dogs leaves the WTC, signifying the end of the "search" operation, and the beginning of the "recovery" effort.

October 10
The Bank of America, which lost three of its employees in the World Trade terrorist attacks, donates three new pumper fire trucks to the FDNY in their memory. The trucks help replace some of the 40 vehicles lost in the collapse.

October 11
A moment of silence is held at 8:48 a.m. to commemorate a month having past since the first plane struck the World Trade Center. FDNY bagpipers play "Amazing Grace," leading police officers, firefighters, and construction workers to the service.

October 19
So far, there have been 186 funeral ceremonies for firefighters lost in the Trade Center collapse.

October 22
307 new firefighters begin their training, as the New York Fire Department begins filling the jobs of those lost in the World Trade Center disaster.

October 28
An inter-denominational, public memorial service is held at Ground Zero to honor the victims of September 11.

October 29
Some 40 percent of the 11,000 firefighters who worked at Ground Zero in the days following the attack are still coughing so severely that they are under medical care for what has been called "World Trade Center Syndrome." Symptoms include chronic coughs, sinus infections, acute lung trauma, and severe asthma requiring mechanical respiration. Almost 4,000 firefighters are under treatment with steroid inhalants, and at least one is suffering from a rare lung inflammation called allergic alveolitis.

October 31
Over $200 million in gold and silver in a Bank of Nova Scotia vault are recovered under 4 World Trade Center.

November 1
246 new firefighters graduate from the training academy, including 6 who died responding to the World Trade Center attacks.

November 2
While protesting Mayor Guiliani's decision to scale back the number of firefighters working the WTC recovery to 25, firefighters scuffle with police officers. Hundreds participate in the protest, which is sponsored by the Uniformed Firefighters Association, and 18 firefighters are arrested and charged with criminal trespassing, after five police officers have been injured in the fracas. Some are also charged with obstructing governmental administration and harassment. Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen later apologizes to the injured police officers on behalf of the department. All of the charges are eventually dropped.

November 8
The number of firefighters allowed to work on the WTC recovery is increased from 25 to 50, after the protest controversy.

November 12
- American Airlines flight 587, an Airbus A-300, N14053 that had just taken off from Kennedy International Airport for the Dominican Republic, crashes into the Rockaway section of Queens at 9:17 a.m. 44 firetrucks and 200 firefighters are dispatched as the city goes on high alert. While at first foul play is suspected, officials eventually determine that the plane crashed as a result of "wake turbulence." All 260 people aboard the plane are killed in addition to five people on the ground at the time.

November 18
The FDNY memorial ceremony scheduled for today is postponed by the International Association of Fire Fighters until Mayor Mike Bloomberg takes office. IAFF president Harold Schaitberger explains: "We plan to hold a service at a later date with new city leadership that will be more sensitive to the emotions of all those whose loved ones and colleagues are still entombed at the WTC site."

December 3
Fire still burns at Ground Zero.

December 19
The House of Representatives approves the presentation of congressional gold medals on behalf of the hundreds of firefighters, police officers, emergency and rescue workers who perished after responding to the attacks on the WTC.

December 27
12 more bodies are uncovered.

January 1, 2002
Bodies of ten firefighters and three civilians are pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center as excavation crews uncover the lobby of one of the collapsed towers.

February 9
The bodies of five Port Authority police officers and an unidentified woman are found five stories below street level in what was once the north tower's lobby.

February 19
Engine 10, Ladder 10, the firehouse closest to the World Trade, receives a loaner truck to replace the one destroyed September 11th, enabling members to once again respond together as "10-and-10."

March 11
Recovery crews searching through debris from the north tower at Ground Zero find the fire truck of Little Italy's Engine Co. 55 buried well below street level. Firefighters remove a door and take it back to its firehouse.

A temporary memorial to the World Trade Center begins today. 88 spotlights recreate the image of the twin towers, projecting two giant shafts of light into the night sky. The memorial, called "Tribute in Light," is visible 20 miles away and will be lit every night through April 13.

March 12
The bodies of eleven more firefighters and those of two civilians are found deep in the basement levels of the south tower.

March 13
Three more bodies of firefighters' are found at the World Trade Center recovery site.

March 14
Another firefighter's body is found, like those of the day before, in the lobby of the south tower.

March 19
The bodies of two more firefighters are recovered at Ground Zero. To date, the Fire Department has identified the remains of 156 of the 343 firefighters killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center.

March 20
The remains of five more victims are recovered, including two Port Authority police officers and one member of the NYPD.

March 24
Since the evening of Friday the 22nd, twenty bodies have been recovered at the World Trade Center, including those of six firefighters.

March 25
So far, 1,460,980 tons of debris have been removed from the site of the World Trade Center in 99,715 truckloads. The city estimates the total amount of debris will exceed 1.5 million tons.

April 18
President Bush signs a bill naming a post office in Deer Park, New York after New York City fire chief Raymond Downey, who perished at the Twin Towers. Downey was an expert in disaster rescues, and the most decorated firefighter in the history of the FDNY.

May 15
DNA testing confirms that the remains of 39-year FDNY veteran Chief Ray Downey have been found.

May 28
Recovery workers gather and watch as the last remaining steel beam of the World Trade Center is cut down. It is scheduled to be the last remnant to be removed from the recovery site.

May 30
In a ceremony attended by thousands, the last steel column of the demolished Trade Center was removed, and an honor guard carried an empty stretcher draped with an American flag, representing those whose remains were not found, walked up a ramp from the site. Of the 2,823 people killed in the attack, the remains of 1,102 have been identified.

June 3
In response to radio communications problems that hampered the FDNY's response on September 11, the department announces plans to test a new, $14 million radio system.

July 15
The search for the remains of victims of the World Trade Center collapse in the rubble of the Staten Island Fresh Kills landfill ends today. For a while, over 7,000 tons of debris were being sifted through a day here.

August 7
Expected retirements, in combination with the commanders killed at the WTC, mean the department will soon have lost about one quarter of its entire supervisory staff.

© 2002 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.