Note: This article originally appeared in the November 5, 2001 issues of the Associated Construction Publication magazines. I thought because this is the anniversary of this unforgettable time in history it was appropriate to run the story again…
We Will Never Forget …
by Greg Sitek
The pulverized remnants have to be removed. The challenges are now in the hands of construction industry, the contractors and construction workers. This is a task that defies the mechanical muscle of machinery and challenges the resolve of everyone who comes in contact with it.
The work zone at Ground Zero is a scene we have never before imagined. It is the place where thousands of American dreams ended and 300 million American nightmares started in what is an endless loop of unforgettable horror.
The World Trade Center that took years to design, plan and build — 1970 to 1973 – was destroyed in 21 minutes and became more than a million tons of rubble in 104 minutes. It will take months to remove the remains of the once proud towers, years to replace them, and beyond eternity to forget them.
Cleanup is a monumental undertaking. The initial stages of the tedious and terrifying task could only be entrusted to careful human hands and watchful eyes that could examine and scrutinize every ounce, every particle, for any clue that might help identify another victim or unravel the madness that destroyed lower Manhattan.
Thousands of tons of brick, mortar and concrete; endless miles of wire, pipe and conduit; thousands of panes of glass, and thousands of doors, lighting fixtures, building hardware and appliances were all assembled in such a way as to create the towers and buildings that became the World Trade Center. The pulverized remnants have to be removed. This is a task that defies the mechanical muscle of machinery and challenges the resolve of everyone who comes in contact with it. Men, women and machines will work tirelessly around the clock to get the job done. Here at “ground hero” as his eminence, Edward Cardinal Egan, Archbishop of New York, calls it, are the heroes who will have to give so much of themselves to reach the end that will make it possible to rebuild.
These challenges are now in the hands of the construction industry, the contractors and construction workers who will effect the removal and start the rebuilding. There are a countless number of articles about the brave and heroic acts of fire fighters, police officers, EMT specialists, self-sacrificing individuals who gave up their lives so others could live. This is about the construction industry’s response to our country’s greatest tragedy. Unfortunately, it cannot be about all of the companies and individuals involved, only a few. These few represent the general attitude and feelings of the industry. I owe a special note of appreciation to Caterpillar Inc. and H.O. Penn Machinery Company Inc. for having given me the opportunity to visit Ground Zero.
What was it like? I remember visiting the sulfur mines in Japan and standing over the sulfur pits in Hawaii thinking that they were a good representation of Dante’s Inferno. Ground Zero is a much better graphic depiction of what hell could be like. The big difference is that this is hell on hallowed ground. Too many American lives, too many lives were lost here for this to be anything other than “Hallowed Ground.”
New York was different. It took days of reflecting on the visit for me to realize that my trip there was so similar to wakes that I have attended. Meals, breakfast and dinner, were simply a necessary function. The few others in the restaurants were simply there to eat, not to entertain or be entertained. New York is in mourning.
Where do you start? Everyone in the country knows the tragic story and has seen it played and replayed on television. Even so, you are not prepared for the experience of going to Ground Zero. We made our way into the city from LaGuardia airport and became part of the vehicle procession entering the city. I was expecting to see streets blanketed in a shroud of ash and concrete dust but this wasn’t the case. According to Jim Delaney, vice president general manager, H.O. Penn Power Systems, “Street sweepers and water trucks ran over the weekend getting ready for the market to open September 17th. There were hundreds of people picking up and removing the debris that had been blown across the city.”
As we made our way to the H.O Penn command center, a rented 32-foot office trailer strategically located in an alley between 180 Maiden Lane and 120 Wall Street, we saw people sweeping sidewalks, washing windows and polishing brass doorknobs. Goldman Sachs, a customer of H.O. Penn, allowed them to use the space for their command center. In addition to using the trailer as a command center, Penn stored air filters, lubricants and other consumable supplies needed to keep the power units and equipment operating.
Emergency power modules
H.O. Penn was among the first on the site, along with the New York Police Department, setting up 50 light towers and 12 small generator sets on the first night.
Prior to September 11, Penn had at least 250MW of emergency power installed in buildings. By the weekend, they had an additional 65MWs running in 40 gensets, most of which were 2MW rental gensets. These units were located at critical points such as the American Express building, New York Mercantile Exchange, and other strategically important locations. Penn has a management team on the site, 24 hours a day, with the responsibility of organizing jobsite power in compliance with Con-Edison’s needs. Additionally, manning the operation of the power units required that H.O. Penn have a trained technician with each unit 24 hours a day. It was critical that these units run continuously.
Jerry McGee, a very tired-looking H.O. Penn technician, had been one of the first Penn employees on the site. He was at Ground Zero that
Tuesday setting the first emergency unit up. “I’m here as long as they need me,” he said. “It’s important that these units keep running so we can’t take any chances. They run continuously and someone has to be here to make certain they do.”
Delaney said that the dealership was prepared because “we cross trained all of our technicians on all of the equipment to get ready for Y2K and as you know it never happened. When this emergency came up we had trained staff to handle all of the power units,” he pointed out. “They are working 12 hour shifts,” he added, “in order to keep the units running. In this situation it’s people that make the difference, having trained technicians on hand to correct any problems is critical to the success of the operation and we have been able to do this because of the dedication of our staff. Jerry’s a good example of how everyone has been responding to the emergency.”
Penn has four people permanently at Con-Edison’s Command Center. They rotate on shifts and are working in teams with Con-Edison personnel to find solutions and coordinate logistics for temporary power needs. It’s a long slow process, getting the units in place, and having them ready for Con-Edison to make the final connections with the buildings through transformers.
H.O. Penn’s efforts were given the full support of neighboring Caterpillar dealers and corporate headquarters. Technicians from H.O. Penn, Foley Inc., New Jersey and Southworth-Milton, Massachusetts, joined forces and did all the cabling for the Cat units. They mobilized hundreds of power units and staged them in Foley’s yard in Hightstown and Penn’s yard in Poughkeepsie.
“Once in position,” Delaney said, “all Con-Ed had to do was terminate on the building side of the transformers.”
GE also had units on site providing emergency power. The amount of equipment marshaled for this effort was staggering. Everywhere I looked I saw representation by all the equipment manufacturers from small to large. Staging for the rescue and recovery required hundreds of light towers, small portable generators, air compressors and personnel carriers. Deere’s Gator all-terrain vehicle was a very popular mode of transportation for emergency crews and police officers.
To make certain the equipment at Ground Zero could operate as needed, Penn dispatched over 40 vehicles. Four service vehicles will remain on site 24 hours a day until they are no longer needed.
“Keeping the power units running until the buildings can be tied back into Con-Edison’s power supply is critical to the recovery effort. The city can’t operate without power so we have people, service vehicles, and lube trucks on the site to provide the manpower and support needed. In fact, we have hose trucks here that can make hydraulic, fuel and cooling systems hoses for anything out here.”
In the early wake of the devastation, it was difficult for personnel to move in and out of the site. Even though many of the service staff lived within driving distance they stayed on site sleeping in their vehicles rather than waste valuable time traveling back and forth or waiting in line to get through the necessary security checks.
By Friday, day 4, Penn had 40 technicians on site, 65 on standby and 14 people on logistical support. Foley and Southworth-Milton continue to offer assistance as needed. During the first few days, they sent in 10 crews of technicians who worked around the clock installing and operating generator sets. “We had 180 people on the emergency list,” Delaney said. “100 of them were Penn employees and the other 80 from Foley and Southworth-Milton.” By Monday, when the stock exchange re-opened the Penn crew had installed more than 20 miles of cable.
Another complication was the fact that New York City operates on 208-volt power. The power modules are all 480 volts, which required transformers for most of the modules to be connected to the buildings.
According to Delaney, Penn, working with another local manufacturer is using a real-time monitoring system on the 3516 2-MW power units connected to the Mercantile Exchange and the NYPD units on Chamber Street. They adapted a system used on workboats that gives them the capability to monitor the generator engine functions live, real-time. “We selected the units at these two locations because of the critical need for power,” Delaney said.
Eric Breen, president of Marine Interface Corp., explained, “with the system we can monitor up to 60 predetermined functions and even make changes via an Internet connection. We use computerized diagnostic tools. Since we have been using this on Cat-powered marine vessels all we had to do was plug it in, do some reprogramming and connect it to a Verizon wireless link. Hewlett Packard donated 10 computers for operation and Verizon Wireless donated 10 wireless modems.”
The way the system works, if a problem occurs, it sends an e-mail to list of people who are responsible for keeping the unit running. Even from a remote location, they can go online, connect to the power unit’s website and if necessary not only observe what is going on, they can make adjustments if necessary.
New York is notorious for its congestion and gridlock, but it was not prepared for the pandemonium that added to the already difficult task of mobilizing rescue workers and equipment. Tight quarters presented challenges for the most skilled equipment operators and truck drivers as they tried to bring in equipment and start the seemingly endless task of removing what had been the World Trade Center.
Jeff Mitchell, executive vice president of Generac, manager of H.O. Penn said, “On Tuesday we started converting every piece of equipment we had so that it would be suitable for demolition. By Thursday night everything we had available was ready to be moved to Ground Zero.”
Meanwhile, to assist with these rescue efforts, two Caterpillar specialized demolition machines – the 345 Ultra High Hydraulic Excavator and an M320 Hydraulic Excavator with hydraulic cab riser – were shipped from Caterpillar’s Aurora, Illinois, facility to New York. These machines are designed specifically to provide the operator better visibility and high reach, both desirable features for an operation as delicate as this. The two excavators were equipped with sorting/demolition grapples to pick sort and then remove the debris.
Truckloads of work tools — shears, grapples, multi-processors, and multi-purpose buckets — were shipped to answer the demand for demolition attachments.
The demolition effort
On Friday, September 21, 2001, mode of the operation changed when word was given to change from the careful, almost reverent, bucket brigade removal to a more mechanized effort. Big excavators equipped with sorting grapples and cutting shears were moved into position. Professional demolition contractors started the difficult job of removing the remnants of the World Trade Center. The bucket brigades we all saw on television have been replaced with truck convoys hauling material from the site, through the narrow, congested streets of Lower Manhattan, through security checkpoints to the docks where it was loaded on barges. The barges once filled haul everything to a landfill on Stanton Island where trained FBI personnel will examine it.
Contracts for the removal of the nightmare were given to four general contractors, Turner Construction joint venturing with Plaza Construction, Bovis Lend Lease, AMEC Construction Management, and Tully Construction Company.
Turner subcontracted the demolition portion to Seasons Contracting, who subbed a portion of the work to Nacirema (American spelled backwards) Environmental Services (both local contractors) and MCM a demolition contractor out of Detroit.
Anthony Novello and John Cherchio, owners of Nacirema, said that their company had 125 people on the job. They were working two 12-hour shifts. Novello, quoted in TIME (September 24, 2001, page 62), has been at Ground Zero since the early stages of the operation. His crew did uncover some body parts early on but are currently working on Building Seven. “They know that everyone got out of the building so we’re on a straight removal operation,” he said. “On the West side, where Building Six toppled, some of the rescue workers were trapped but we’re not working on that side.”
Novello said that even though they were certain that there were no victims in the area they were working they were still proceeding with extreme care. “One of the biggest concerns,” he said, “is the pile shifting as material is removed. At this early stage of cleanup, we have to work from the bottom of the pile. We put workers in man baskets, equip them with cutting torches and lift them to the top of the pile where they cut some of the big pieces and watch the pile while material is pulled down for the smaller machines to load.”
Nacirema has two 345 ultra hi-reach units operating on the pile along with one 330 ultra hi-reach; three 375s — one with a grapple two with shears; one 245 with a 2,000-pound LaBounty shear; five 345 DL excavators equipped with grapples; four 330 DL excavators with grapples; three 950 wheel loaders; one 960 wheel loader; one 980 wheel loader; and eight 246 skid-steer loaders. “At this point we depend on using the right equipment and skilled operators to do the job. It’s difficult to know what you are lifting or pulling since so much is buried under other materials. We’ve had to replace bolts on a couple grapples and bent the boom on a 345 by lifting steel that was actually heavier than the machine itself.”
Production is slow and tedious. This is a very serious version of Pick-up-Sticks. Pull the wrong piece too hard or too fast and the pile could suddenly come down in an uncontrolled avalanche of pulverized and compressed concrete mixed with 50-ton steel beams. Nacirema is building ramps that will let them move a couple of the larger machines to the top of the pile where they can be used to throw material down. The smaller machines will be used for sorting and loading.
In the first few days Novello’s crews were moving 150 truckloads per shift or about 60,000 tons every 24 hours. The material had to be moved through the narrow city streets that were congested with rescue and recovery efforts; checked by military for security purposes and hauled to barges where it was unloaded for transport to Stanton Island.
Novello believes, “once we have better movement through the streets and they open a few more staging areas, we should be able to move more material. I think we can have Building Seven removed in about three months. There was no basement under Building Seven which makes the job a lot easier.”
He went on to explain that clearing the basements would present the greatest challenge since all the material would have to be brought to the surface level for removal. “It’ll be a lot like having an open pit mining operation in the city.”
To facilitate the operation, Nacirema picks up its employees at the company offices and transports them to the job site. At the end of the shift the company takes them back to the offices.
Seasons Contracting, owned by Sal Carucci and Robert Montwaid bid the removal job and developed a removal plan. Carucci said, “When we were discussing the removal process with some of the city officials they asked how we were going to remove the 50-ton girders… I told them we’d make two cuts; reduce them to three piece of about 17 tons each. That’s what we’re doing with the big beams. The rest of the material we’re able to cut with a 375 and a shear.”
Seasons has approximately 150 employees at Ground Zero and 35 to 38 pieces of equipment on the job. “We do a daily inventory,” Montwaid said, “and adjust according to what we’re doing and what we need to get the job done efficiently.” Its equipment fleet consists of 345, 330 excavators, and 375 excavators equipped with shears; 980, 950, and 960 wheel loaders; and 10 skid-steer loaders. Seasons is also running 10 to 15 haul trucks on the job.
Montwaid said, “we’re moving about 300 loads a day, 4,000 to 6,000 cubic yards of material. Although they say all the building employees managed to escape, we still have to exercise a great deal of caution. There could be sensitive materials that need to be turned over to the FBI for processing as well as some weapons and munitions. So, everything has to be sorted.”
He added, “some of the steel is still molten and when you uncover it, it can ignite.” Other concerns that he expressed were the facts that there is a collapsed subway running alongside the site that adds to the risk as well as some truck tunnels under the buildings that make them unstable.
Seasons is also removing the bigger pieces of iron and building a ramp so that they can put a large production machine on top of the pile. “It’s much more effective to move the material down from the top and have smaller machines do the sorting and loading,” he said.
“One of the greatest challenges we had,” Carucci stated, “was moving 38 pieces of equipment onto Ground Zero and assembling them in 48 hours. But, we did it.”
Cherchio of Nacirema said that this particular demolition job was one “designed for attachments.” “There isn’t room for a lot of equipment and there isn’t room to move equipment in and out. You have to be able to switch attachment quickly and easily to meet the immediate demands of the removal. You may need a shear for a while and then it’s a grapple… or a multipurpose bucket. Swapping the attachments is easer than changing machines.”
Both contractors believed that they would have Building Seven removed in about three months but that it would probably take from 8 months to a year before the entire site was cleared.
There are thousands of stories of heroes that have yet to be told. We owe our appreciation and gratitude to all the companies that have given to the rescue, recovery and removal efforts that have gone on and will continue to go on for some time. There are dozens of contractors on the job and have been on the job that haven’t been recognized – plumbers, carpenters, steelworkers, masons, electricians, virtually every trade that exists is there making a contribution. Virtually every construction equipment manufacturer has some equipment there on or near Ground Zero helping with the cleanup. I saw Bobcat, Hitachi, Link Belt, Manitowac, Ingersoll-Rand, Case, New Holland, Komatsu, Wacker, Multiquip, United Rental, NationsRent, GE, Hilti– and the list goes on…
I can’t tell you how many contractors were there. I have no idea. I can’t tell you how many people from this industry are there. I can tell you that this is now the job of our industry to clean up and make ready for the future of lower Manhattan.
“Should the twin towers rise again?” This question was asked on the front page of USA Today on Tuesday, September 25, 2001. According to the paper, Americans are split fifty-fifty on the question. Having been there before and having been there after, I don’t have the answer. The ashes of the World Trade Center are also the ashes of the thousands who have died there, with the twin towers. They would certainly dedicate the site to being hallowed ground. Time will never remove the echoing cries of anguish or the screams of horror that resound and will forever reverberate in hearts, minds and souls of every American, of every human.
…so proudly we hail the efforts of all who have so valiantly given of themselves from the first second this tragic nightmare started until the last resounding echo of recorded time.