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After a Court Battle, More Sept. 11 Tapes Released

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Today, New York City released recordings of more than 1600 emergency calls made on September 11, 2001. Most of them were communications between fire fighters and fire department dispatchers. In March, recordings of 130 emergency calls were released. Those were made by ordinary citizens trapped in the World Trade Center. The release of all the recordings is the result of a lawsuit by a group of 9/11 families. Along with the New York Times, they requested the tapes under New York State's Freedom of Information law.

NPR's Margot Adler reports.

MARGOT ADLER reporting:

The 1613 calls released today are mostly between fire fighters, fire department dispatchers and EMS dispatchers. Since they involve government employees, both sides of the conversations are given, unlike previous tapes in which the voices of civilians were removed.

You hear fire fighters as they tried to get up the stairwells of the twin towers.

(Soundbite of call)

Unidentified Man #1: We're trying to get up. There's numerous civilians in all stairwells. Numerous burn injuries are coming down. I'm trying to send them down first. Apparently, it's above the 75th floor. I don't know if they got that yet, okay?

Unidentified Man #2: Okay.

Unidentified Man #1: Free a truck, and we're still heading up, all right?

Unidentified Man #2: Okay.

ADLER: You can hear a call to the hotline after the first tower collapsed.

(Soundbite of call)

Unidentified Man #3: One of the towers just collapsed. I can't tell what the extent of the damage is, but there is a complete white out from the dust from the tower.

Unidentified Woman #1: Okay.

Unidentified Man #3: We have potential - and I stress potential - for having lost most of our resources at the scene.

ADLER: The recordings include the voices of at least 19 fire fighters and 2 emergency medical technicians who were killed when the Twin Towers collapsed.

Chief Dennis Devlin of Battalion 9, who died that day at Ground Zero, is heard asking for more radios and the for the names of the companies sent to Tower Two.

(Soundbite of call)

Chief DENNIS DEVLIN (Fire Fighter): Yeah, how you doing. This is the command post in Tower Two of the World Trade Center.

Unidentified Man #4: Okay.

Chief DEVLIN: This is Chief Devlin. I've got to get a rundown of the companies. We're in a state of confusion.

Unidentified Man #4: All right.

Unidentified Woman #2: Okay, that's engine 211, ladder 11. Engine 44, Engine 22.

Chief DEVLIN: Hold on.

ADLER: It may not sound important, but at a news conference this afternoon where members of the 9/11 families who brought the lawsuits spoke, Sally Reaganard(ph), who lost her son, a probationary fire fighter, said that the list of companies was hugely important.

Ms. SALLY REAGANARD (Mother of Fire Fighter): For the first time, we learned that my son's engine company was one of those engine companies reporting on West Street to Tower Two. That is more information than I have been given by the city of New York in five years.

ADLER: Also released today were 10 calls by civilians inside the towers. Three calls had been used as evidence in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui and witheld at the request of the attorney general until the end of the trial.

One that was played at the trial is one of the most heart rending calls of that day. It is from Melissa Doi, who was on the 83rd floor.

Ms. MELISSA DOI (Civilian killed on 9/11): There's no one here yet and the floor is completely engulfed. We're on the floor and we can't breathe. And it's very, very, very hot. I'm going to die. I know I am.

Unidentified Woman #3: Ma'am. Ma'am. Say your prayers.

Ms. DOI: I'm going to die.

Unidentified Woman #3: We're going to think positive because you've got to help each other get off the floor. Stay calm. Stay calm.

Ms. DOI: Please, God.

Unidentified Woman #3: You're doing a good job, ma'am. You're doing a good job.

Ms. DOI: It's so hot. I'm burning up.

ADLER: The 9/11 families who have pressed for these recordings say they want more information and will go back to court, that they are learning what went right, what went wrong and how the city can be more effective in an emergency.

Retired fire fighter Al Fuentes said at the news conference that one lesson learned was that the dispatchers should be trained and treated as first responders, for in fact, they were and they are.

Margot Adler, NPR News. New York.

BLOCK: You can hear more of the recordings at our website, NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Margot Adler
Margot Adler died on July 28, 2014 at her home in New York City. She was 68 and had been battling cancer. Listen to NPR Correspondent David Folkenflik's retrospective on her life and career