Saturday, August 19, 2006

The way to lead

I watched The Miracle of Stairway B on the History Channel last night. It's a documentary of how 12 firefighters, three office workers, and a Port Authority cop survived the collapse of the North WTC Tower, trapped in a fifth-floor stairway landing. The re-enactments are good, and the interviews with the survivors are terrific.

If you recall, the WTC towers had this innovative design, using trusses instead of the heavy steel beam gridwork of a traditional skyscraper. Look up next time you are in a Wal*Mart, those lacey things holding up the roof are trusses. In the WTC, they held up the concrete floors for each of the 110 above-ground floors in the buildings. There was no redundancy in the structures, so when one floor fell, it started a collapse that pancaked upon each of the floors beneath . What you essentially had was a growing concrete block smashing everything on each floor below it, and then adding each floor to it's growing concrete mass. The total collapse of each building took about 13 seconds.

How amazing was it for people to have survived this? Both towers were office towers, yet not a single desk, chair, computer, copy machine, telephone, or filing cabinet either survived or even left recognizable rubble. Drop a concrete block on a Tic Tac and you get the idea. They found a single four-drawer filing cabinet from an office in one of the sub-basements, and it's mangled beyond recognition.

What I thought was especially interesting, and what may be a sign of great leadership, was how the senior fireman kept his sense of humor. After the collapse, he finally makes radio contact with rescuers on the surface of the rubble field. He tells them that he and the others are trapped in the North Tower. In the ensuring radio chatter, someone asks, "Where's the North Tower?" What follows is a great moment in the documentary.

In another instance, the survivors now believing that there is half-a-million tons of debris on top of them, a shaft of sunlight comes through. The head firefighters follows it up to the surface, just above where everyone is trapped. He comes back to the other on the fifth-floor stairwell landing and says "Well, we're now the top of the World Trade Center!." How cool is that!

[The documentary never really explains what had happened. The debris from the upper floor crashed through the multiple sub-basements and parking areas under the towers. In other words, it filled that big hole that later became so familiar to us. That's why the fifth-floor stairwell was the top of what had been the North Tower. There is no explanation, of course, as to how -- in all that absolute and total destruction -- that single stairwell stub could have survived.]

1 comment:

Jim said...

moni said...

I still get the willies when I think of 9/11. That is one thing I know I will never forget. I was so angry, I wanted to kill someone.

the official list now shows two victims with my name who were killed on 9/11 -- a police officer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a civilian employee at the Pentagon (U.S. Navy retired).