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Eyewitness Accounts of Foreknowledge of WTC 7's Collapse

Dozens of responders who were in the vicinity of WTC 7 in the afternoon of the attack reported receiving warnings that the building would collapse. Several describe the evacuation of a zone around the building about a half hour before the 5:20 PM collapse.

These witness accounts of these warnings and evacuation actions are one of two bodies of evidence indicating foreknowledge of WTC 7's collapse.

An archive of transcripts of interviews of more than 500 members of emergency services contains at least 26 interviews that describe either warnings or foreknowledge of WTC 7's collapse. The following table excerpts the phrases from each interview relating to expectations of collapse.

file description
9110085 was going to collapse or was at risk of collapsing; imminently to collapse
9110413 in eminent collapse
9110398 a possible collapse
9110486 going to collapse
9110425 going to collapse
9110425 going to collapse
9110103 going to collapse
9110179 might collapse
9110170 threat of collapse
9110217 concerned that the fires on several floors and the missing steel would result in the building collapsing
9110256 an imminent collapse on
9110200 they knew it was going to come down, but they weren't sure
9110150 a potential for collapse
9110467 concerned about 7 World Trade Center collapsing
9110502 was definitely going to collapse, they don't know when, but it's definitely going to come down
9110021 they were just adamant about 7 coming down immediately
9110055 just waiting for 7 to come down
9110301 in danger of collapsing
9110222 concerned about seven coming down
9110222 The most important operational decision to be made that afternoon was the collapse had damaged 7 World Trade Center
9110327 heard reports all day long of 7 World Trade possibly coming down
9110117 around 3:00 o'clock, that they thought 7 was going to collapse.
9110246 in dead jeopardy; stood there for a half hour, 40 minutes, because seven was in imminent collapse and finally did come down
9110472 the potential of 7 World Trade Center collapsing
9110409 was going to collapse; is coming down
9110462 definitely in danger of collapse

Evacuation of Collapse Zone

Fire chiefs cordoned off and evacuated the area around Building 7 in preparation for its collapse. That decision was not made lightly, becasue it it meant suspending search and rescue operations in and around the northern end of Ground Zero. A detailed article published in Fire Engineering Magazine describes that decision:

Be that as it may, FDNY chief officers surveyed 7 WTC and determined that it was in danger of collapse. Chief Frank Cruthers, now the incident commander, and Chief Frank Fellini, the operations commander, both agreed that a collapse zone had to be established. That meant firefighters in the area of the North Tower had to be evacuated. This took some time to accomplish because of terrain, communications, and the fierce determination with which the firefighters were searching. At 5:30 p.m., about 20 minutes after the last firefighters evacuated the collapse zone, 7 WTC collapsed. It was the third steel-frame high-rise in history to collapse from fire -- the other two had collapsed earlier that day. 1  

Firehouse Magazine ran series of articles with interviews of fire chiefs. Fire Chief Joseph Pfeifer describes Chief Nigro ordering people away from the building:

Yes, I watched 7. At one point, we were standing on the west side of West Street and Vesey. And I remember Chief Nigro coming back at that point saying I don't want anybody else killed and to take everybody two blocks up virtually to North End and Vesey, which is a good ways up. And we stood there and we watched 7 collapse." 2  

Fire Chief Daniel Nigro describes his reasons for creating the collapse zone:

The biggest decision we had to make on the first day was to clear the area and create a collapse zone around the severely damaged 7 World Trade Center, a 47-story building heavily involved in fire. A number of fire officers and companies assessed the damage to the building. The appraisals indicated that the building's integrity was in serious doubt. I issued the orders to pull back the firefighters and define the collapse zone. It was a critical decision; we could not lose any more firefighters. It took a lot of time to pull everyone out, given the emotionalism of the day, communications difficulties, and the collapse terrain. 3  

Chief Frank Cruthers recalls Chief Nigro convening a meeting of fire chiefs on the subject of establishing a collapse zone.

Of primary importance early on in the operation was the structural condition of 7 World Trade Center. Assistant Chief Frank Fellini had been approached by several chiefs who were concerned about its stability. It had been heavily damaged in the collapse and was well-involved in fire. Chief Fellini had looked at it and described to us some damage to its south side; he felt that structural components of the building had been compromised. So when Chief Dan Nigro arrived at the command post, he convened a meeting of staff chiefs, and this was a major subject of the meeting. We were all in accord about the danger of 7 WTC, and we all agreed that it was not too conservative of a decision to establish a collapse zone for that building, move the firefighters out of the collapse area, and maintain that strategy. 4  

Professional photographer Tom Franklin provides some detail about the timing of the evacuation:

It was about 4 p.m., and they were anticipating Seven World Trade Center collapsing. The firemen were leaving en masse. 5  
It was 4:45 p.m., and all the firemen and rescue workers were evacuating Ground Zero after word came that a third building -- WTC 7 -- was ready to fall. 6  

Mark Jacobson, reporter, New York Magazine described being surprised by a fireman's certainty that the skyscraper would come down:

Hours later, I sat down beside another, impossibly weary firefighter. ... Then, almost as a non sequitur, the fireman indicated the building in front of us, maybe 400 yards away. 'That building is coming down,' he said with a drained casualness. 'Really?' I asked. At 47 stories, it would be a skyscraper in most cities, centerpiece of the horizon. But in New York, it was nothing but a nondescript box with fire coming out of the windows. 'When?' 'Tonight ... Maybe tomorrow morning.' This was around 5:15 p.m. I know because five minutes later, at 5:20, the building, 7 World Trade Center, crumbled. 7  

Indira Singh, a volunteer EMT, describes hearing rumors that the building would be brought down:

What happened with that particular triage site is that pretty soon after noon, after midday on 9/11, we had to evacuate that because they told us Building 7 was coming down. ... I do believe that they brought Building 7 down because I heard that they were going to bring it down because it was unstable, because of the collateral damage. ... By noon or one o'clock they told us we had to move from that triage site up to Pace University, a little further away, because Building 7 was gonna come down or being brought down. ... There was another panic around four o'clock because they were bringing the building down and people seemed to know this ahead of time, so people were panicking again and running. 8  

Battalion Fire Chief John Norman describes the size of the collapse zone -- 600 feet in radius:

After we found Chief Ganci, in addition to recon, I was detailed to make sure the collapse zone for 7 WTC had been set up and was being maintained. The sector commanders were trying to clear out of that area. We expected it to fall to the south, into the areas we were searching. 9  
Now we're still worried about 7. We have guys trying to make their way up into the pile, and they're telling us that 7 is going to fall down - and that was one of the directions from the command post, to make sure we clear the collapse zone from 7 and this is a 600-foot-tall building, so we had to clear a 600-foot radius from that building. 10  

Deputy Fire Chief Nick Visconti describes resistance to the evacuation by firefighters who wanted to fight the fires in Building 7:

Now, World Trade Center 7 was burning and I was thinking to myself, how come they're not trying to put this fire out?
...
At some point, Frank Fellini said, now we've got hundreds of guys out there, hundreds and hundreds, and that's on the West Street side alone. He said to me, Nick, you've got to get those people out of there. I thought to myself, out of where? Frank, what do you want, Chief? He answered, 7 World Trade Center, imminent collapse, we've got to get those people out of there.
...
There were a couple of chiefs out there who I knew and I called them individually. I said to them, listen, start backing those people out, we need them back up to the command post. While this was going on, I saw individual company officers. I was whistling, Captain, bring your guys this way. I was getting some resistance. The common thing was, hey, we've still got people here, we don't want to leave. I explained to them that we were worried about 7, that it was going to come down and we didn't want to get anybody trapped in the collapse. One comment was, oh, that building is never coming down, that didn't get hit by a plane, why isn't somebody in there putting the fire out? A lot of comments, a bit of resistance, understandable resistance. 11  

References

1. World Trade Center Disaster: Initial Response, Fire Engineering, 9/2002
2. WTC: This Is Their Story, firehouse.com, 4/2002
3. Report from the Chief of Department, Fire Engineering, 9/2002
4. Postcollapse Command, Fire Engineering, 9/2002
5. Newseum, Running Toward Danger, 2002, page 204
6. The After-Life of a Photo that Touched a Nation, Columbia Journalism Review, 3/1/2002
7. The Ground Zero Grassy Knoll, New York Magazine, 3/27/2006
8. Interview with Indira Singh. 'Ground Zero 911, Blueprint for Terror, Part One', Guns & Butteer, 4/27/2005
9. Search and Rescue Operations, Fire Engineering, 10/2002
10. WTC: This Is Their Story, Firehouse.com, 5/2002
11. WTC: This Is Their Story, Firehouse.com, 8/2002

page last modified: 2009-08-02
VERSION 1.66 2011-07-30 ------------- Copyright 2003-11, WTC7.net ------------- fair use notice