THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
One of the figures that has left the deepest impression on those affected by the attacks of 9/11 is that 343 New York firefighters died in the World Trade Center. That comes out to over 2% of a force considered by firefighters around the world as simply the best of the best. The thing that makes that part of the tragedy different from others is that the firefighters (along with other emergency personnel) were running up the stairs as the buildings burned, not down them. Two recently released DVDs, 9/11 and New York Firefighters: The Brotherhood of 9/11, seek to put faces to names for some of the members of New York's 14,000-strong fire department.Narrated by Stockard Channing, New York Firefighters was produced entirely after 9/11 as a tribute to the fire department in general and to Rescue 3 in the Bronx in particular. There are five fire houses with the "rescue" title in New York. These houses are considered among the elite since their duty is as singleminded as possible: Go into the danger and rescue the injured. Subsequently, these houses suffered some of the heaviest losses on 9/11. Rescue 3 lost all eight men who responded to the World Trade Center emergency. The film shows the ride list dated the evening of 9/10. Plexiglass has been placed over the wipeboard to ensure that the names never get erased. This simple memorial is one of the many devastating reminders on display in the program.
Rescue 3, like all firehouses, operates like a slightly dysfunctional family with all the hollering and joking that you'd expect from a bunch of rowdy guys who spend days on end together. New York Firefighters goes out of its way to relay the sense of camaraderie and love that the firefighters have for each other. The time spent getting to know their habits and quirks makes the piece more moving and personal and it also makes the events that it depicts later on all the more horrific.
Rescue 3, like all the rescue companies, arrives without a ladder or a hose. Their tools are what they can carry in their hands and their wits and experience. When they arrived at the World Trade Center they headed straight in, intent on rescuing as many people as possible. New York Firefighters interviews several World Trade Center workers who survived the attack, including one who helped some of the members of Rescue 3 carry some gear up the stairs. When he had done what he could, he left the firefighters, all of whom perished when the tower collapsed.
The film does a good job of communicating the grief of anguish of the survivors. Several families of victims visit the firehouse and discuss their loved ones and the pain. They reminisce on the past and talk about the love of the job that firemen carry. "The Bronx always burns," one widow quotes from her husband citing the necessity of his duty. Possibly the most affecting sequence features the 13 year old son of one of the fallen, a boy who has practically grown up in his father's firehouse and plans with powerful determination to follow his father into the FDNY.
There is also one devastating piece of information that this documentary alone states out of the numerous I've seen: The eery chirping sound heard in all footage of Ground Zero in the hours following the attack is the sound of an alarm that firemen wear. The alarm sounds whenever they've stopped moving for too long. It is used to locate incapacitated and dead firemen, only in the aftermath of the building collapses it was amplified hundreds of times over.
WTC- The First 24 Hours
New York Firefighters: The Brotherhood of 9/11
Why the Towers Fell
World Trade Center: Anatomy of the Collapse
World Trade Center - A Modern Marvel 1973-2001 Email Gil Jawetz at [email protected]