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Fire Marshal Aids Rescue Efforts In New York

By Teresa Rochester

Nov. 12 -- After Santa Monica Fire Marshal Jim Hone dined with his wife at the Windows of the World restaurant on the 106th floor of 1 World Trade Center, the couple had hoped to go back. Hone would return a year later, but this time in a C-141 transport plane filled with 60,000 pounds of equipment and one of three California urban search and rescue teams.

When he arrived at the World Trade Center plaza after a day of briefings, instead of the two gleaming 110-story towers, Hone found twisted metal and mountains of rubble and hopeful workers already on the scene searching for the thousands of missing.

Earlier this month, Hone, a quietly intense man, sat behind his desk in SMFD Headquarters on 7th Street, pulled a large white three ring binder filled with photographs from a box and tried to illustrate the scope of the destruction.

"It's significantly larger than what the television portrays," said Hone, a recognized authority on urban search and rescue. "You can't really get an appreciation of the size."

In his binder there's a photo of concrete dust as thick and high as a dirty snowdrift. There's another photograph of a 50-ton section of Tower Two's façade hanging in the face of a 56-story building and a shot of the 80 through 84th floors of one tower spearing the roof of Building Four, a nine-story building that stood in its shadows.

"We moved out 8,000 tons of debris and we were just scratching the surface," said Hone, who helped lead the search and rescue efforts following the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. "That steel was everywhere. There really wasn't much concrete. The dust was thicker than anything I'd seen."

So was the mounting death toll, which far exceeded the 168 killed in the Oklahoma City blast.

"The amount of fatalities and missing numbers range somewhere near 6,000," said Hone. "They [the public] need to remember that in excess of 20,000 people worked just in the two towers. The effort of the fire department, police department and emergency medical services and all the civilians that came to assist, really it could have been a lot worse."

A 22-year veteran of the SMFD, Hone went to New York as a division supervisor, charged with overseeing 100 rescue workers from California. There, he served as an advisor to the Fire Department of New York battalion chief in charge of rescue efforts.

After flying across the country in one of three transport planes escorted by military fighter jets, Hone touched down at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. The task forces were then transported to Jacob Javit Convention Center in New York for a day of briefings before going to the disaster site, where thousands of people were missing beneath the rubble.

For Hone and other rescuers the mission was laced with personal loss. Three hundred and forty four firefighters, many of them NYFD's top rescue personnel, were lost and presumed dead in the twisted debris. They were people Hone had worked with closely in Oklahoma City.

"When those towers came down some people I worked with in Oklahoma were inside," Hone said. "That really was a significant blow to New York Fire command staff… They [New York fire personnel] did a tremendous job."

In Oklahoma, Hone -- who had assisted in search efforts following the 1994 Northridge Earthquake -- was in charge of searching the inside of the building.

Hone had spent more than a quarter century working on search and rescue teams. He first worked aircraft search and rescue during a six-year stint in the Air Force. After joining the Santa Monica Fire Department in 1980, he helped form a national network of search and rescue teams, writing curricula and co-authoring procedures.

Assigned to an area near where the south tower - 2 World Trade Center - once stood, Hone and the three and half task forces he oversaw set up shop in the Engine Co.10/Ladder Co. 10 firehouse on Liberty Street known as the 10 House. It was there that some of the injured fled after the planes had struck the towers. Firefighters and rescuers made the station a makeshift triage area before the buildings' collapse forced them to evacuate.

By the time Hone and the search and rescue teams arrived on the scene two days after the attacks, steel, dust, briefcases, yellow airplane lifejackets and other debris still blocked the firehouse door and sidewalk.

By Sept. 15, five miles of fencing -- ordered by one of Hone's New York colleagues an hour after the first plane slammed into the North Tower -- was in place and the site secured. Civilian rescue workers, who rushed to the scene to help in the hours after the attacks, were asked to go home for their own safety, as the rescue effort became increasingly coordinated.

The site of Ground Zero didn't rattle Hone but focused him. Working 18 to 22 hour days that began with a 5 am briefing, Hone's team of rescuers worked reconnaissance missions, peering into holes 6 to 7 stories deep in search of survivors and carefully removing debris in areas called The Valley, 10-10 and Church. On the other side of the field of rubble were areas called The Widow Maker and The Chip (on a map the area looks like a Ruffles potato chip).

The noise of heavy machinery was deafening and during the first couple of days the "all stop" whistle would sound at least twice an hour alerting workers to be quiet so sensitive equipment could be used to detect sounds beneath the rubble that may signal a survivor. Dust and smoke filled the air and the smell sent Hone "right back to Oklahoma."

By the second day he was hoarse from the air and from shouting his twice-daily updates into a radio to be heard above the din.

The exhaustion also took its toll. "I'm fine as long as I'm working," said Hone, who added that under the conditions senses and awareness are heightened.

Ten days after the terrorist attacks shook New York, Washington D.C, Pennsylvania and the rest of the country, Hone was on his way back to Santa Monica, where his colleagues in the department had started making plans to raise money for their brothers back east.

"As focused as the nation is on this event because of its many fatalities, what fire service providers did, they are required to do and they do it willingly," said Hone. "It's also what they do every day throughout this nation and what they will continue to do.

"I just don't want people three months from now forgetting what the emergency service fields mean to everyone. If this was downtown LA, you would have seen the same kind of response.

"We try to be prepared," Hone concluded. "You never know when that bell goes off what you're going to be faced with."
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