‘I’m Going to Die, Aren’t I?’

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

NEW YORK (AP) – A doomed fire official inside a command post at the World Trade Center reported a chaotic scene where communication between the responding units became increasingly difficult, according to recordings of emergency phone calls from Sept. 11 released Wednesday.

“We’re in a state of confusion,” said Chief Dennis Devlin of Battalion 9, who died that day at ground zero. “We have no cell phone service anywhere because of the disaster. … Bring all the additional handy talkies.”

Devlin, in the south tower, tried to get a rundown of all the companies dispatched to the burning 110-story buildings. The same mix of concern and confusion was evident in more of the 1,613 previously undisclosed emergency calls made amid the horror after the hijacked planes hit the trade center.


“One of the towers just collapsed,” said a fire lieutenant on another call. “Everybody’s got to be inside of it. … There’s got to be thousands of the people inside it. One of the towers just came down on EVERYBODY.”

Frantic callers trapped on the upper floors of the burning World Trade Center sought help from emergency operators, who were unable to offer much more than words of encouragement.

“There’s heavy smoke and flames and the building management is announcing that everything is all right, and it’s not and they’re confused,” said one fire dispatcher after fielding a phone call from someone trapped on the 82nd floor.


Another operator, speaking to someone stranded on the 103rd floor, promised, “I’m going to do my best.” “I want you to go on the floor. Kneel on the floor. On the floor,” said another operator. And a fourth, speaking to a woman stuck on the 83rd floor, offered hope of a rescue team that never appeared.

“Listen to me, ma’am,” the operator told a panicky Melissa Doi during a 20-minute phone call. “You’re not dying. You’re in a bad situation, ma’am.”

A portion of Doi’s end of the conversation was played for jurors in April at the trial of Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.


“I’m going to die, aren’t I?” Doi asked the dispatcher. But the operator encouraged Doi to keep her composure.

“Mam’am, just stay calm for me, OK?” she asked. The conversation ended with the operator trying vainly to speak with Doi, a financial manager for IQ Financial Systems: “Not dead, not dead,” the operator said to no response. “They sound like deep sleep.”

The phone line cut out. Doi would never make it out of the World Trade Center. “Oh, my lord,” said the operator, whose words to Doi were previously not made public.

Confusion also reigned as EMS dispatchers took calls from workers at the scene who complained they weren’t receiving enough instructions.

“We are being bombarded by calls,” responded a dispatcher at 10:07 a.m.

One off-duty worker was in tears when she called in to try to report for duty.

“I want to come into work, but everything is blocked,” said the woman.

“Why are you crying, Carol?” said her supervisor.

“The World Trade Center collapsed.”

“Everything is collapsed, baby.”

“All those people _ what about the EMTs and paramedics and firefighters in there helping people get out?”

“I don’t know, sweetie, I really don’t know.”

“Oh God.”

The newly released calls included the voices of Devlin, 18 other firefighters and two emergency medical technicians killed when the twin towers collapsed, although most of the calls are from firefighters asking dispatchers where they should report for duty, the Fire Department said.

One tape contained fire Capt. Patrick Brown calling from the 35th floor, reporting a chaotic scene of civilians _ some with burn injuries _ heading down the stairwell as the firefighters headed up.

“Apparently it’s above the 75th floor,” Brown said in the 24-second exchange barely an hour before the north tower fell. “I don’t know if they got there yet. We’re still heading up.”

There were 343 firefighters killed that day. About a dozen family members of 9/11 victims arrived in a midtown Manhattan conference room to hear the tapes, which again raised questions about the lack of communication on the scene.

“We’re still looking for information for how we can fix what went wrong that day,” said Aggie McCaffrey, whose firefighter brother Orio Palmer was killed when the first tower collapsed.

The New York Times and family members sued for access to the emergency calls and firefighters’ oral histories. Attorneys said they wanted to find out what happened in the towers after two hijacked jetliners crashed into them and what dispatchers told workers and rescuers in and around the buildings.

The calls also include 10 previously unreleased 911 calls made by people trapped in the twin towers, although those calls include only the voices of the operators who heard their pleas.

The city in March released transcripts of 130 calls from people trapped in the towers, including only the voices of operators and other public employees. The callers’ voices were cut out after city attorneys argued that their pleas for help were too emotional and intense to be publicized without their families’ consent.

Thousands of pages of emergency workers’ oral histories and radio transmissions were released last August.

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta ordered his department to search for additional recordings when another tape turned up shortly after the March release of 911 calls. City officials listened to all calls to emergency and fire dispatchers between 8:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. on Sept. 11 to locate all available recordings.

The fire department said Tuesday that a misinterpretation of instructions resulted in the withheld 911 calls.

Families of the 21 rescuers identified in the calls have been notified, the department said. Because they were public employees, their entire calls were released on Wednesday.

The New York Sun

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