Fire Engineers Call WTC Probe ‘Half-Baked Farce’

A respected professional magazine read by firefighters and engineers is calling the investigation into the collapse of the World Trade Towers a farce and a sham.

Exclusive to American Free Press - Jan. 21, 2002
By Christopher Bollyn

Fire Engineering magazine, the 125-year old journal of record among America’s fire engineers and firefighters, recently blasted the investigation being conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the collapsed World Trade Center as a “a half-baked farce.”

Fire Engineering’s editor, William Manning, issued a “call to action” to America’s firefighters and fire engineers in the January issue asking them to contact their representatives in Congress and officials in Washington to demand a blue ribbon panel to thoroughly investigate the collapse of the World Trade Center structures.

Fire Engineering frequently publishes technical studies of major fires and is read in more than 50,000 fire departments and schools of fire engineering across the nation.

Manning challenged the theory that the towers collapsed as a result of the crashed airliners and the subsequent fuel fires, saying, “Respected members of the fire protection engineering community are beginning to raise red flags, and a resonating theory has emerged: The structural damage from the planes and the explosive ignition of jet fuel in themselves were not enough to bring down the towers.”

No evidence has been produced to support the theory that the burning jet fuel and secondary fires “attacking the questionably fireproofed lightweight trusses and load-bearing columns directly caused the collapses,” Manning wrote, adding that the collapses occurred “in an alarmingly short time.”
Because no “real evidence” has been produced, the theory that the twin towers collapsed due to fire “could remain just unexplored theory,” Manning said.

Manning visited the site shortly after the collapse and his photographs appeared in the October issue of Fire Engineering. None of the photos show the load-bearing central steel support columns standing or fallen, which raises the question, what caused these columns to disintegrate?

An eyewitness to the collapse told AFP that as he stood two blocks from the World Trade Center he had seen “a number of brief light sources being emitted from inside the building between floors 10 and 15.” He saw about six of these brief flashes, accompanied by a “crackling sound” immediately before the tower collapsed.


The steel from the site must be preserved to allow investigators to determine what caused the collapse, Manning said. “The destruction and removal of evidence must stop immediately.”

“For more than three months, structural steel from the World Trade Center has been and continues to be cut up and sold for scrap. Crucial evidence that could answer many questions about high-rise building design practices and performance under fire conditions is on the slow boat to China,” Manning said, “perhaps never to be seen again in America until you buy your next car.”

“Such destruction of evidence,” Manning wrote, “shows the astounding ignorance of government officials to the value of a thorough, scientific investigation of the largest fire-induced collapse in world history.”

Nowhere in the national standard for fire investigation does one find an exemption allowing the destruction of evidence for buildings over 10 stories tall, Manning said. “Clearly, there are burning questions that need answers. Based on the incident’s magnitude alone, a full-throttle, fully-resourced, forensic investigation is imperative. The lessons about the buildings’ design and behavior in this extraordinary event must be learned and applied in the real world.

“Did they throw away the locked doors from the Triangle Shirtwaist fire? Did they throw away the gas can used at the Happyland Social Club fire? Did they cast aside the pressure-regulating valves at the Meridian Plaza fire? Of course not. But essentially, that’s what they’re doing at the World Trade Center.”

The collapse of the World Trade Center was the first total collapse of a high-rise during a fire in United States history and the largest structural collapse in recorded history. The collapse resulted in the deaths of some 3,000 people, the second largest loss of life on American soil and the largest loss of firefighters ever at one incident, yet congressional hearings or a “blue ribbon” commission looking into the events of Sept. 11 have not been called for, and may never be.


In a separate editorial, “WTC Investigation? A Call to Action,” by the magazine’s technical editor, Prof. Glenn Corbett of John Jay University in New York City, and two other expert fire engineers who specialize in high-rise buildings, the FEMA-led investigation was called “uncoordinated” and “superficial.”

“The World Trade Center disaster demands the most comprehensive, detailed investigation possible,” the writers said. “No event in our entire fire service history has ever come close to the magnitude of this incident.”

Given the magnitude of the disaster “you would think we would have the largest fire investigation in world history,” the editorial says. “You would be wrong. Instead, we have a series of unconnected and uncoordinated superficial inquiries. No comprehensive ‘Presidential Blue Ribbon Commission.’ No top-notch National Transportation Safety Board-like response. Ironically, we will probably gain more detailed information about the destruction of the planes than we will about the destruction of the towers. We are literally treating the steel removed from the site like garbage, not like crucial fire scene evidence.”


On Christmas Day, The New York Times reported that structural engineers have demanded a completely new investigation because the decision to quickly recycle the tower’s steel columns, beams and trusses had resulted in the wholesale destruction of critical evidence.

Dr. Frederick W. Mowrer, an associate professor in the fire protection engineering department at the University of Maryland, said the decision had compromised any investigation of the collapses.

“I find the speed with which potentially important evidence has been removed and recycled to be appalling,” Mowrer said.

Officials in the New York mayor’s office refused to reply to written and oral requests from The New York Times over a three-day period about who actually made the decision to recycle the steel, seriously handicapping the investigation.

The engineers said that the “serious mistake” to recycle the structural steel deprived investigators of the most important direct physical evidence required when trying to piece together what caused the towers to collapse. In the United States there are thousands of similar lightweight, center-core construction high-rise buildings with light-density, sprayed-on fireproofing, according to Manning.

“We have to learn from incidents through investigation to determine what types of codes should be in place and what are the best practices for high-rise construction,” Manning told the Daily News. “The World Trade Center is not the only lightweight, core construction high-rise in the U.S. It’s a typical method of construction.”


The builders and owners of the World Trade Center property, the Port Authority of New York-New Jersey, are a government agency that is reported to operate “in an accountability vacuum beyond the reach of local fire and building codes.”

The Port Authority has denied charges that the buildings of the World Trade Center lacked fire protection or that construction components were substandard, but has refused to cooperate with requests for documentation supporting its contentions.

A group of engineers from the American Society of Civil Engineers, commissioned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is reported to be studying “some aspects of the collapse,” but not all, according to Manning and others. The engineers’ investigation, they say, has not looked into all aspects of the disaster and has had limited access to documents and other evidence.

“Except for the marginal benefit obtained from a three-day, visual walk-through of evidence sites conducted by ASCE investigation committee members—described by one close source as a “tourist trip”—no one’s checking the evidence for anything,” Manning said. “As things now stand and if they continue in such fashion, the investigation into the World Trade Center fire and collapse will amount to paper- and computer-generated hypotheticals.”

Engineers have also complained that they have been shackled with bureaucratic restrictions that prevented them from examining the disaster site, interviewing witnesses and requesting crucial information like recorded distress calls to the police and fire departments.

“This is almost the dream team of engineers in the country working on this, and our hands are tied,” one engineer who asked not to be identified told the Times. Members of the team of engineers have been threatened with dismissal for speaking to the press.

“FEMA is controlling everything,” the anonymous engineer complained.
“Comprehensive disaster investigations mean increased safety,” Manning said. “They mean positive change. NASA knows it. The NTSB knows it. Does FEMA know it?

“No. Fire Engineering has good reason to believe that the ‘official investigation’ blessed by FEMA and run by the American Society of Civil Engineers is a half-baked farce that may already have been commandeered by political forces whose primary interests, to put it mildly, lie far afield of full disclosure,” he wrote.


In an article about the mysterious explosion and collapse of the 47-story Salomon Brothers Building, also known as 7 World Trade Center, which burned and collapsed at 5:20 p.m. on Sept. 11, The New York Times reported on Dec. 20 that the New York City Fire Department had repeatedly warned city officials “that a giant diesel fuel tank for the mayor’s $13 million command bunker in 7 World Trade Center” could result in a “disaster” if it caught fire.

Fire Department officials had warned the city and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 1998 and 1999 that the 6,000-gallon diesel tank posed a serious hazard and was a violation of city fire codes. A leak in the tank would result in toxic and flammable fumes being spread throughout the building. Despite the obvious dangers, warnings and fire code violations, the city made only minor changes to address the concerns and the tank remained in place.
The tank was meant to fuel generators that would supply electricity to the mayor’s 23rd-floor bunker in the event of a power failure and was positioned 15 feet above the ground floor near several lobby elevators.



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