9/11 10 Years Later: Navigating the Post-9/11 World

On Sat, Sept 3, 2011 at 11:56 AM "Mike Fagel" wrote:

1 Comment

September 11, 2001—September 11, 2011

Ten years, what a difference.

The day started as any other day, that fateful day, 10 years ago. We all heard of the plane crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City, and many have though of it as an
"accident"...Then, In horror, we saw or heard of the "2nd plane" crashing into the other twin towers.

This is one of the temporary command posts we built on a
daily basis. This was actually a blue Police trailer we
"borrowed", a bit of paint, a sign and it was "ours"

At that moment, history will show, the face of emergency services changed. There was NO organization called homeland security in 2001 (it was created March 1, 2003)

I had been a member of the North Aurora Illinois Fire protection district since 1975, working in Emergency Medical Services, Emergency Planning and disaster preparedness. Also, I served as a reservist with FEMA since 1995 (my first deployment was the Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19, 1995)

At 11AM that morning of September 11, 2001, my pager went off to contact, and I was put on standby with travel orders to be forthcoming. I arrived at Ground Zero on September 13, and was assigned to the FDNY logistics Chief, DC Charles Blaich. We were in the midst of extreme and utter destruction, the likes of which I have never witnessed before.

Debris piled as high as you could see (those were collapsed buildings 110 stories tall reduced to piles of twisted steel, cement, billowing smoke.

Mike Fagel and Chief Charlie Blaich

The piles were tombs, final resting places of nearly 3000 souls that perished on this heinous attack on America, and the free world.

As we know from those days events, attacks occurred at the Pentagon, and the aircraft that was brought down in Shanksville, PA by the heroic efforts' of the passengers and crew that was potentially destined for the capitol or White House.

My tasking as I arrived on 9-13 was to report to the FDNY command post ad to meet the Chief of Logistical support for the Fire Department.  I first met Chief Charles (Charlie) Blaich and was told to "stick to me like glue".   Thus we began what was to be a journey into things I have never witnessed before.  We began by finding out what the various sectors needs were for support that shift. Body bags, Flags, Saws, Masks, Staffing and that was just a small part.

Map of lower Manhattan, with the Blue indication of
major debris (city blocks)

We then travelled to the "pile" to determine conditions and look ahead to the next operational periods needs.

After spending 4 or 5 15 hour tours with Charlie and Lee (chief's aide) we began working on strategies for equipment.

We had NUMEROUS ambulances from all over the states that just "showed up" wanting to start working. We had to very carefully control the units IN AND OUT of the scene.

One other issue (of hundreds) that came up was that of SCENE SAFETY. Charlie knew that in my "previous life" I was a safety officer for FEMA at disaster sites (I was first deployed to the Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19, 1995).

He told me after about the 6th day (they all blurred together) that I was now the Incident Command Safety officer for the site and would represent the FDNY's needs and concerns at the DAILY Headquarters Command briefing at 0600 and 1800 at the Pier 92 headquarters.

An example of DAILY tributes left outside the
fire stations city wide

These "pier" meetings were held with department heads and agency officials from each of the city departments on scene (public works, health, police, hospitals, mayor's office etc) plus the myriad of FEDERAL agencies and departments.  We had  OSHA-EPA-Coast Guard-Army- Navy-Secret Service-FBI to name just a very few of the more that 85 agencies from outside NYC involved on a minute by minute basis.

It was a constantly changing site, every moment a new challenge. From safety, to security, construction equipment, debris removal, it never stopped.  The days and nights were endless, but we kept at it.

An example of a "Field Command tent"

One of the saddest days was when we gathered 10 of us to help develop the "transition" plan when the operation would move from rescues to recovery. That changed the situation 10 thousand percent. When the final decisions planning documents were completed and sent to the mayor's office for eventual implementation, the change on the week of September 26 to phase out RESCUE and move o a recovery phase was very heavy indeed. I helped facilitate the discussions as we tried to maintain focus on the mission at hand.

To picture a group of fire and rescue officers, weary from the burden of loosing their command staff, and nearly 400 uniformed members of the FIRE, EMS and POLICE services weighed heavy. We had tears being choked back (and a few fell) as we examined the actual facts of that there could be no more live rescues or survivors after day 16 (Mexico City Earthquake last known survivor was at day 14).

Map Request desk inside Pier 92

The document was not to be made public (that rescue would wind down) due to the fact that we still thought that there could have been nearly 10 thousand people still unaccounted for.  It was in effect a "stark situational analysis" of where things were as the smoke and dust settled.

I went home for a few days in October, and was immediately called back o the site after 4 days by Chief Blaich, where I stayed until Christmas.

As I close this short essay, I have many more things to share, but I will share with you a paragraph of a letter I received from Chief Blaich a year later. In part…

" A true professional, Mike Fagel arrived at FDNY WTC Incident Command Post on Duane Street, a short distance from Ground Zero, as chaos was still not contained. He organized, directed and cajoled until order again appeared in our health and safety efforts for the thousands of personnel struggling at rescuing the victims of 9/11. Many of the  Ground Zero workers have their health still intact because of Mike's Courage and efforts. The Fire Department was well served by Mike's courage and efforts. The Fire Department was well served by his knowledge and expertise"

~ Charles R. Blaich, Deputy Chief FDNY
& Logistics Chief, WTC ICP

Logistics cache at Public School 86

That says it all, why I do what I did, and do what I do. Thank you Charlie those kind word! The events of 9/11 are in my mind every day, and for those lost and ill.

We all work for the common good for the people.

~ Mike

Mike Fagel is a trustee of the Sugar Grove Illinois Fire Protection District, and served as a 28 year member of the North Aurora Illinois Fire Department in various roles and responsibilities. He served as a reservist with FEMA for 10 years and now teaches Emergency Planning and Homeland Security at several universities, as well as working Critical Infrastructure at Argonne National Laboratory.

The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone, and NOT that of any local, federal agency or institution. Fagel can be reached at: mjfagel@aol.com

1 Comment

On Sat, Sept 3, 2011 at 1:21 PM "Rick C. Matthews" commented:

Mike Fagel is a senior subject matter expert for the NCSP (Chicago area).  He had an interesting role and therefore perspective on the 2nd Trade Center attacks – response and recovery.    In many ways its speaks for a lot of us, I think.  Mike and I both were involved in the response and recovery operations after the OKC bombing.  I remember the 10 year anniversary of that incident and our reflections on it.  Most of us, I think, rarely talk about our inner feelings about such events and generally stick to the third person perspective when we do speak.  I know this was a bit hard for Mike to write (he did it for another organization) but my guess is that it was also therapeutic.

I remember, back in the day, at LSU, we lost two instructors on 9-11.  Several of our instructors, in both the law enforcement (Steve Williams side of house) and the bio-terrorism arena (my space) were members of either  NYPD or FDNY.  It was often that Steve and/or I were engaged in fairly deep discussions with some of these guys.  We found that some of them needed, especially in the year following the attack, to discuss the incident and their feelings when we sent them to trainings around the country (always outside New York by the way).  They told me that it helped them to manage their inner turmoil and it tended to steer class questions (they always came up whenever the participants learned that one or more of the instructors were from NYC.  Over time, the need to "talk" subsided but on occasion, it would still surface.  I bring this up only as a reflection that we might want to be aware that many of our "extended family" will feel that stirring in their guts over the coming weeks – perhaps some of us may feel it too.  Training and public speaking scenarios both tend to give cause, I think, for those feelings to begin to surface. 

I guess I am suggesting that we might want to look around at our instructors, trainers, employees, participants/students, and audiences and be, perhaps a little more than normally sensitive to what they might be thinking and feeling. 

Thank you Mike for reminding me.

Rick Mathews, Director of the National Center for Security and Preparedness

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