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NYC Refusal to Allow Rescue Device to be Tested

Eight months after the collapse of the World Trade Centre on Sept. 11, 2001, New York Times writers Jim Dwyer, Eric Lipton, Kevin Flynn, James Glanz and Ford Fessenden meticulously reviewed scores of telephone messages and e-mails from the trapped and dying victims and compiled a factual, haunting account of the last 102 minutes of those who were trapped or attempting to rescue those trapped inside the doomed twin towers.

Family members, friends and colleagues of those who died were interviewed, the times of calls from mobile phone bills and 9-1-1 records were obtained, and 15 hours of police and fire radio tapes were carefully analyzed. The evidence that's pieced together in their award-winning book, 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, strongly suggests that more than 1,100 people in or above the impact zones survived the initial crashes and many of those people lived until their building collapsed. (For excerpts from this book, go to http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/06/01/1022569847731.html.

The reality is that no solution currently exists to get dozens of firefighters up to the 100th floor of a high rise in less than an hour, making large-scale rescue and fire suppression difficult if not impossible to effect in a timely manner. In fact, on 9/11, firefighters used the only available elevator in a valiant attempt to rescue trapped occupants.

Therefore, it's discouraging to learn that the proposal by Escape Rescue Systems to conduct a pilot program of their revolutionary high-rise escape system, featuring expandable cabins that can be lowered like lifeboats outside a high-rise, is being given the bureaucratic runaround by New York City officials. I believe New York City officials are being very short-sighted by saying that the project is unworthy of the necessary building permits.

Rescuers, construction managers, architects and emergency planners who sat transfixed to network coverage of countless people jumping to their death on Sept.11 know that any alternative to 2,000+ degree heat, death by smoke inhalation or an 1,100 foot fall would be welcome during a high-rise fire that's out of control.

This system is essentially a roof-mounted crane and five-car external elevator that could move 150 firefighters to the top of a high-rise in eight minutes. It's permanently stored on the roof in a folded position. When activated, each assembly, called an array, is rapidly lowered to the ground from each side of a structure. Each array then unfolds, enabling emergency responders to board the enclosed, aluminized cabins. The five-cabin array then travels upward until it stops opposite five elevated floors (simultaneously), enabling firefighters to exit and occupants to enter through specially configured exit windows (at up to 150 people from five floors into each five-car array).

Each array is then lowered to the ground, and tenants exit as it refolds. The system repeats this cycle, transporting responders up and into the building and evacuating tenants as required.

Each array includes the rooftop devices (storing and deploying mechanism, drive system, cabin array, independent power source); command and control mechanisms; configured windows on each floor, as emergency exits (and boarding ramps); and a wind stabilization mechanism.

This system would have been welcome to rescuers and incident commanders attempting to rapidly evacuate trapped occupants or send personnel to the upper floors on 9-1-1. When I went to Escape Rescue Systems' Website (http://www.escaperescue.com) and viewed the demonstration video clips, my mind flashed back to the horrible images I watched on 9/11. You can argue that it wouldn't have worked because two sides of each WTC building were blown out. But, at least one side of each structure would have offered a possible escape route for hundreds of people had a system of this type been available to each side.

Jonathon Shimshoni, CEO of Escape Rescue Systems and former Israeli military officer with a doctorate in public policy from Princeton University, believes in his product and wants to prove its capabilities. New York City's concerns about who would operate the system during an emergency, people breaking windows and venting fire, passengers potentially passing fire floors and trapped occupants rushing the system in a panic are all valid concerns that need to be addressed and tested. As one who works on the 19th floor of a high rise and knows that he's beyond the reach of existing firefighting technology, I urge New York City's Office of Emergency Management, FDNY and the Office of Building Permits to sit down and arrange for a pilot test of this innovative approach to rescue occupants and deliver fire rescue personnel to affected floors during a high-rise fire. I also urge other progressive cities to look into this type of technology so that countless people may have the chance to be saved by it in the future.


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