NEW YORK– A group of New York City firefighters and their families traveled to New Hampshire Monday to try to collapse the image of America s Mayor heroically leading New York City in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The group, 9/11 Firefighters and Families, contends that former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani made poor decisions before the day of the attack that left firefighters ill-prepared to respond when two planes hit the World Trade Center. They fault him for the deaths of their firefighter colleagues and sons, who perished when the towers collapsed.
There were needless people that died that day, said Jim Riches, deputy chief of the New York City Fire Department, whose son died in the attacks. And to see this man turn around now and say he did a great job preparing us and having leadership that day? It was lacking, and there was none. . . . Now he s trying to parlay it into the presidency of the United States. . . . He did nothing, and it doesn t qualify him to be president of the United States.
Five members of the group met with the Monitor yesterday morning before holding a town hall style meeting at Dartmouth College in the evening.
This isn t the first time New York City firefighters have publicly criticized Giuliani since he started campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. The International Association of Fire Fighters, a union that represents 281,000 firefighters, produced a 13-minute video last summer that blamed Giuliani for the deaths of 121 firefighters killed when the North Tower collapsed. The IAFF says Giuliani knew the department was using faulty radios and says the firefighters died because they could not receive evacuation orders before the tower collapsed.
Giuliani s campaign has dismissed the attacks on his 9/11 record as partisan smears, adding that the IAFF historically backs Democrats. The union endorsed Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd this campaign. Howard Safir, former New York City police and fire commissioner and now chairman of First Responders for Rudy, said 9/ 11 Firefighters is just another group trying to second-guess Giuliani s leadership during an unprecedented attack on the United States.
Seven years later, it s easy to dissect it and be critical, Safir said. Look at the results: Over 20,000 people were rescued from those buildings; 99 percent of those beneath the impact points survived.
Two members of 9/11 Firefighters appeared in the IAFF video: Riches and Alexander Santora, retired chief of safety at the New York City Fire Department. Both lost their firefighter sons in the World Trade Center towers.
But the IAFF says 9/11 Firefighters is acting on its own.
These are the accusations that have been leveled by the people who were on the ground that day. They aren t the IAFF s accusations, said Jeff Zack, a spokesman for the firefighters union.
The group that traveled to New Hampshire said it doesn t want to be considered this year s Swift Boaters, referring to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that attacked the Vietnam War record of John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee. Members of 9/ 11 Firefighters said they plan to keep their efforts at the grassroots level and won t endorse a candidate for president.
They said they are frustrated that outside New York City, Giuliani is best known for his actions in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. And although they believe Giuliani made grave errors leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, it is his use of the attacks to bolster his national security credentials that made them want to set the record straight.
Had he come after 9/11 and said, Listen, I ve made terrible mistakes. We did the best we could under the situation. I tried my best, we would probably not be here today, said Maureen Santora, whose 23-year-old son, Christopher, was killed in the South Tower. But it is his arrogance and it is his insistence that he was the savior of 9/11 that has driven all of us to kind of come out and say, take another look at really what the facts are.
Riches said, He s cashed in on a national tragedy, and I think it s disgusting.
The group faults Giuliani for not replacing firefighters handheld radios, which were vulnerable to dead spots, a fact revealed following the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. A new radio model was introduced in March 2001 but recalled the following month, after a firefighter s Mayday call inside a building went unheard by fellow firefighters. On Sept. 11, firefighters were using the old radios.
The group also charges that Giuliani made a foolish decision when he built the city s $13 million emergency operations center on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center, despite knowing the spot was a terrorist target. Giuliani and his entourage evacuated the center the morning of Sept. 11, 2001; the building collapsed about 5 p.m.
Riches said Giuliani should have held an interdepartmental drill at the World Trade Center to prepare for another attack. He also faults Giuliani for not ensuring that rescue workers had proper respiratory equipment during the cleanup at ground zero. Riches said health officials didn t provide him with a respirator until November. In 2005, Riches suffered respiratory failure and went into a coma for 16 days. The dust at ground zero permanently damaged his lungs, he said.
Why did you give me, Rudy Giuliani, a paper mask for two months? he said. Don t tell me (respiratory masks) were mandatory down there, because they weren t. Respiratory masks provide greater protection against particulates than paper masks.
Riches added that in November 2001, he received a proper mask and was trained to use it. But he and other firefighters did not have those masks for the first two months of the cleanup.
Safir said the radios didn t do well in steel and concrete. Some worked and some didn t, he said.
The 9/11 Commission has disputed the claim that firefighters died in the North Tower because they didn t receive the evacuation order. At least 24 of the 32 companies who were dispatched and actually in the North Tower received the order wither via radio or directly from other first responders, the commission s report says.
Safir said Giuliani built the emergency operations center at the location recommended by his director of emergency management, Jerry Hauer. The location was within walking distance of city hall and was near police and fire headquarters. The center was rebuilt in Brooklyn when Michael Bloomberg took over as mayor in 2002.
Safir said fire and police departments worked together on plenty of interagency drills, including training to respond to weapons of mass destruction, subway attacks and hostage situations. Some drills took place near the World Trade Center, but the city did not specifically practice for another attack at the site, he said.
Emergency responders learned from the 9/11 attacks, Safir said. But he said it s a mistake to blame Giuliani for not preparing the city for an attack that shocked the nation, including emergency responders.
It wasn t Rudy Giuliani who attacked those buildings on 9/11, Safir said. And he emerged as a leader that became the face of this country who needed someone to stand up and say, we won t let this defeat us.
Riches said Safir s comments are a distraction. Giuliani didn t attack the World Trade Center, he said, but why didn t he replace the radios he knew were faulty?
Members of 9/11 Firefighters hope their grassroots approach may make some voters question Giuliani s record.
I am the most nonpolitical person you ll ever meet, Alexander Santora said. I have never spoken out. I have never been a political person at all. Almost 3,000 people . . . died. They didn t have a voice. We have to speak for them.He did not fly the planes, he said. But he could have helped before. He could have helped after. He didn t.