The story of Debbie Merrick
My daughter, Maggie, forwarded your email to me.
The WTC disaster has a lot of unpleasant surprises and wrinkles to it.
There were many miraculous "saves", but on the other hand, there were many
A couple of weeks after the attack and the collapse of the building,
assigned to a cubicle at a satellite facility they call the Tech Center, in
Jersey City, NJ. It's an old garment factory that had been converted to
offices decades ago. Anyway, the cube I was using had a computer in it.
The computer was registered to Debbie Merrick.
On that awful day, Debbie made the decision to visit the Credit Union
was in Trade Center. According to the accounts I have heard, Debbie was in
the lobby waiting for an elevator when AA Flight 11 hit on 93. The jet fuel
from the plane poured down the elevator shafts. Owing to the way the
elevators are laid out, I don't understand how the fuel got into the
elevator that she was waiting for. There are / (were) "Sky Lobbies" on 44
and on 78. So to go above those floors, you took an express elevator to the
appropriate sky lobby and then transferred to a local elevator. The
elevator machinery was located on the floors above the sky lobbies; only a
very few shafts continued all the way up. Anyway, apparently she was in the
lobby, the elevator shaftway doors opened and a fireball hit her with full
force. She survived and was taken to a hospital with 90% burns. After
lingering for about 50 days she died.
I think Debbie was the last of the WTC victims to die. One unhappy
effect is that many of the lists of casualties do not show her as an
employee of the PA; they included her among "other".
I never met Debbie, but was able to get a copy of the memorial program
her funeral. So I got to know her that way.
Interestingly, her computer is kind of an older machine. Slow
makes noises like it's grinding coffee. I've moved twice and the machine
keeps following me around. All the techies and all the bureaucrats have
failed in every effort to get me a newer machine; all the other folks have
the latest and greatest. So every morning when I boot up and log on, I see
Debbie's name. And I'm guessing that the reason for my keeping her machine
is that I am reminded each day to pray for the repose of her soul. Sounds
kind of maudlin to some, perhaps, but I can't figure out any other
explanation. I guess God figured that I could deal with the unpleasantness
of it all.
I found out about the Web site for the WTC from a fellow I was chatting
in the hallway; he lives at State College and rents a room here weekdays.
Don't know where he is now, since the latest move. His name is Chapin, I
believe. We're scattered all around in several locations in two states.
Right now, I'm in downtown Newark at 2 Gateway Center. Eventually, things
will settle down.
Some thoughts from having been in Tower One during the attack.
I saw your letter to the editor of ENR.
And I was wondering if I could toss in a few ideas or make a few suggestions.
Or perhaps the report is all done.
Having been in the stairwell (I forget the letter;
it was the westernmost
staircase of One World Trade when I entered it on 73) for a substantial
length of time, and having met up with the fireguys on their way up at
around the 50th floor, a few points come to mind.
1) This is a generic comment relevant to
all high-rise buildings - over 20
stories. I noted that the firemen were all carrying heavy burdens: Scott
Air Pacs, demolition tools, coils of fire hose. By the time they had
climbed much above 30 stories, they were exhausted. Beyond the personal
issues of being exhausted, however, is that their progress in climbing up
was very slow because of a) the heavy burdens and b) their wearing of the
heavy and heat trapping bunker suits.
I would like, therefore, to recommend that in
high rise buildings - over 20
stories - that reels of fire hose, Scott Air Pacs, demolition tools and
bunker clothing be stock piled in rooms designated as "Fire Tool Rooms".
The rooms would be stocked and maintained and kept current by the Fire
Department, as if the "Fire Tool Rooms" were part of the fire house.
However, the building owner would be billed for the contents - part of
owning a high rise. The "Fire Tool Rooms" could be located each ten floors.
2) At the World Trade Center, initial rescue
and evacuation were conducted
by building occupants. In many cases, the fire department did not have time
to reach individual locations. There were numerous cases of fire stairs and
corridors and hallways leading to stairs being blocked by debris.
Therefore, designated individuals on each floor ("fire marshals") should
have a key to the "Fire Tool Rooms".
3) At the upper floors of the World Trade
Center, individuals attempted to
use the fire hoses provided in the stairwells to suppress fire. In all
cases but one, they failed. The instructions on the FOLDED hose racks state
that the valve should be turned on BEFORE the hose is deployed. However,
when that is done, the hose blows out. The correct procedure is to deploy
the hose fully, with all kinks removed and only then should the valve be
opened. I suggest you contact Bob Mansfield who was on 82N in 1 WTC and who
is a volunteer firefighter and who successfully suppressed a fire to lead a
group of people out of the building.
Therefore, the use of the hose racks and reels
in the emergency fire stairs
should be reviewed.
4) At the time of evacuation, people
were observed generally to be in a
shocked or trance-like condition. Their eyes were glazed and they were
generally looking straight ahead and down; generally their eyes were not
blinking. Police in the lobby were skillful and effective in making low-key
uncomplicated positive suggestions to people for evacuating the building -
"keep moving" and directing the evacuees to the next officer in the human
chain which led the people successfully out of the building and away from
the scene. Loud noises, authoritative commands, yelling, etc, generally
caused confusion. But the police who just kept saying "keep moving" were
effective. I suspect that most of those police stayed at their posts and
died when the building collapsed.
Therefore, evacuation procedures should be reviewed
the psychological state of the evacuees. People are looking down; therefore
signs should be placed low instead of being placed high. One of the best
things at the WTC were the luminous lines painted on the floor of the
staircases. All the evacuees needed to do was to "follow the yellow brick
5) The building alarms did not come
on until the evacuation was nearly
complete. However, by then there was no need for the alarm; everybody was
in the process of leaving. BUT, the loud alarms that never turned off were
at best disturbing to the people in the stair cases. We all knew that
something bad was going on and we were doing something about it. At worst,
the loud alarms were distracting. In fact, they were more than annoying,
they were a danger because the alarm noises could be picked up by the fire
department radios and rebroadcast, making it very difficult for the fire
department and police to communicate.
Therefore, I recommend that a simple timer be
installed on all fire alarms.
After five minutes, the alarm shuts itself off.
6) In the stair cases that I was in (the
fire stairs wind around and you
needed to move horizontally through various mechanical equipment - elevator
machinery - rooms), the fire department radios seemed to work extremely
well. There was a lot of "squelching" noises, but the radios were working.
Everybody was talking at once, but then a lot of information needed to be
communicated. There was a lot going on.
Therefore, I would recommend that a lot of detailed
conducted to factually evaluate the use of fire department radios. Simply,
on some weekends, fire departments should make use of high rise buildings
and run exercises in the staircases with radios to see how well the radios
perform and what could be done to improve things. It could be as simple as
turning down the squelch or as complex as installing a line wave carrier in
each stair case, similar to what is done in the vehicular tunnels to
continue AM commercial radio broadcasts.
7) It is apparent that not all fire department
people were wearing bunker
suits. Some were wearing short sleeved white shirts and dark trousers.
Perhaps they were lieutenants. I don't know how uniforms are assigned.
But, the reason for mentioning this is that it is obvious that some fire
fighters RAN UP to the impact point in One World Trade. At some point,
perhaps when I was down around the 20th floor, there was a very clear and
distinct radio message: "..... structural instability....." It seemed
obvious to me that some lightly dressed and unencumbered fireman had reached
the scene of the impact, was able to evaluate what was there, and was able
to report what he saw.
Therefore, I would recommend that as a policy
in high rises that people able
to physically able to do so, should visit the scene as quickly as possible
to assess the situation.
8) The fact that the buildings absorbed
the impact of the planes and
withstood the fire for a substantial length of time suggests that perhaps
more effort should be expended in making sure the buildings are more fire
proof. Office buildings are full of paper and flammable plastics (furniture
and partitions). However, the FAA and the ABS have made strenuous efforts
at fire proof or fire resistant materials.
Given that fire departments will have difficulty
and be slow in getting to
upper floors, it would be helpful to increase the percentage of
non-flammable materials on those floors.
9) Another good thing that I observed was
that on some floors, there were
vending machines located close to the fire stairs. It was an enormous
benefit to both the evacuees climbing down and the overheated fire fighters
climbing up to be able to have access to cold water. The best vending
machines had glass fronts. Evacuees were able to break open the glass
fronts and hand out cold liquids to the people who were grateful. The water
was used both for drinking and for applying to the face and neck. The water
went first, the ice tea next. I don't think anyone took the soda.
Therefore, I would recommend that vending machines
be situated close to fire
stairs so that if necessary evacuees could make use of that resource. In
all likelihood, most evacuees would not be familiar with the layout of each
floor, so it would be important to simply locate the soda machines (not the
candy machines) in "alcoves" facing the fire stairs.
10) The most controversial issue deals with
the use of helicopters. This
is not a personal observation. I was in a stair well. However, in December
2001, Aviation International News of Midland Park NJ published an article
with accounts from police department helicopter pilots alleging that they
could have landed on the top of 1 WTC (although not on 2 WTC). After I
read that article I did a Web search for helicopter rescues and found that
somewhere around 1980, two ad hoc rescues were organized with no notice - a
hotel in Las Vegas and a cruise ship off the coast of Alaska. In each case,
hundreds of people were saved, often under arduous conditions.
Nevertheless, the rescues happened. There is some "antipathy" between fire
and police bureaucracies that must be melted. I won't go into the
push-pull, who said what, details of the differences in feelings between the
various services; there is enough emotion circulating around already. The
helicopter technology of 1980 was nowhere nearly as advanced as it is today.
Helicopters are much more powerful, adaptable, and capable. The pilots are
just as dedicated.
Therefore I recommend that actual exercises be
conducted to evaluate how
helicopters can be used to not only rescue occupants of tall buildings but
also place fire fighting personnel where they are needed to observe and fight
fires in high-rise buildings. Engineers come into play because the roofs
must be designed and building codes written to facilitate both helicopter
operations and access from roofs to upper floors under emergency conditions.
I need to emphasize the use of the words "emergency conditions", because
some people seeking to create sensationalism would suggest or state that the
roofs might then be used for routine operations.
Anyway, I wrote about 20 pages six months ago,
but this email contains most
of the essential information.
Hope this is helpful.
- Albert Masetti, P.E.
P.S. This email in no way should be construed
to represent any organization
that I may be working for. These are simply my personal observations while
in the fire stairs of One World Trade Center. The comments on helicopters
are related the fact that I learned to fly a plane before I learned to drive
a car; so I am somewhat comfortable with practical uses of aviation. I have
been working in airside airport design on and off since 1964.