"Pull" = Withdraw firefighters from danger?


It certainly was used that way on 9/11. Again and again, “pull” is how firefighters and EMTs describe the afternoon withdrawal from the area in and around WTC 7. In the accounts I’ve read, excluding Larry Silverstein’s, “pull” is used 30 times to refer to the withdrawal of WTC firefighting and rescue operations. 27 of those references are about WTC 7. Add Silverstein’s statement and we’ve got 32 references to “pull” meaning “withdraw.” My survey was not exhaustive.

Here’s a summary of the first-person accounts I’ve read. All but a few are from first responders:

41 – People who specifically mention the severity of the WTC 7 fires
29 – People who specifically mention extensive damage to WTC 7
104 – People who mention the FDNY order to withdraw from WTC 7 area
36 – Number of times “Pull” is used to mean “withdraw rescuers”
39 – Other witnesses who say the collapse of WTC 7 was expected
Download an Excel spreadsheet breakdown of these accounts

Doubters, please read the following accounts in full. 

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." FDNY Chief of Operations Daniel Nigro, "Report from the Chief of Department," Fire Engineering, 9/2002)

I do remember us being pulled off the pile. ...We were down by the pile to search or looking around. 7 World Trade Center was roaring. I remember being pulled off the pile like just before. It wasn't just before. It was probably an hour before 7 came down. –Firefighter Kevin Howe

Hayden: By now, this is going on into the afternoon, and we were concerned about additional collapse, not only of the Marriott, because there was a good portion of the Marriott still standing, but also we were pretty sure that 7 World Trade Center would collapse. Early on, we saw a bulge in the southwest corner between floors 10 and 13, and we had put a transit on that and we were pretty sure she was going to col-lapse. You actually could see there was a visible bulge, it ran up about three floors. It came down about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, but by about 2 o’clock in the afternoon we realized this thing was going to collapse. 

Firehouse Magazine: Was there heavy fire in there right away?

Hayden: No, not right away, and that’s probably why it stood for so long because it took a while for that fire to develop. It was a heavy body of fire in there and then we didn’t make any attempt to fight it. That was just one of those wars we were just going to lose. We were concerned about the collapse of a 47-story building there. We were worried about additional collapse there of what was remaining standing of the towers and the Marriott, so we started pulling the people back after a couple of hours of surface removal and searches along the surface of the debris. We started to pull guys back because we were concerned for their safety. 

Firehouse: Chief Nigro said they made a collapse zone and wanted everybody away from number 7— did you have to get all of those people out?

Hayden: Yeah, we had to pull everybody back. It was very difficult. We had to be very forceful in getting the guys out. They didn’t want to come out. There were guys going into areas that I wasn’t even really comfortable with, because of the possibility of secondary collapses. We didn’t know how stable any of this area was. We pulled everybody back probably by 3 or 3:30 in the afternoon. We said, this building is going to come down, get back. It came down about 5 o’clock or so, but we had everybody backed away by then. –Deputy Chief Peter Hayden

There was a big discussion going on at that point about pulling all of our units out of 7 World Trade Center. Chief Nigro didn't feel it was worth taking the slightest chance of somebody else getting injured. So at that point we made a decision to take all of our units out of 7 World Trade Center because there was a potential for collapse.

Q. It was on fire, correct, Captain?

A. Yes, it was on fire at that time. Then they said it suffered some form of structural damage. These things were going on at the same time. The fact that we thought we found Ganci and Feehan and his place at 7 World Trade Center. Made the decision to back everybody away, took all the units and moved them all the way back toward North End Avenue, which is as far I guess west as you could get on Vesey Street, to keep them out of the way. –Captain Ray Goldbach

So we go there and on the north and east side of 7 it didn’t look like there was any damage at all, but then you looked on the south side of 7 there had to be a hole 20 stories tall in the building, with fire on several floors. Debris was falling down on the building and it didn’t look good. But they had a hose line operating. Like I said, it was hitting the sidewalk across the street, but eventually they pulled back too. 
–Capt. Chris Boyle

Someone gave a Mayday. I guess it was someone trapped under one of the pedestrian bridges. We started to go under there to look. One of the Chiefs pulled us out of there. He said don't go under there. ..We searched that building and then we started making another move in and we got pulled out again, because I guess the Chiefs were getting more in control of the situation. They pulled everybody out of there. ...that was probably like four or five o'clock before we stopped. –Firefighter Todd Fredrickson

When the third building came down that's where we were (Stuyvesant High School). We were actually -- they pulled us all back. Actually they pulled us all the way back that far at the point because they didn't want any -- they didn't want us anywhere near it. Everyone was just running around. When the third building came down, we were on that corner in front of the school, and everybody just stood back.

They pulled us all back at that time, almost an hour before it, because they were sure -- they knew it was going to come down, but they weren't sure. So they pulled everyone back, and everybody stood there and we actually just waited and waited until it went down, because it was unsafe. They wouldn't let anyone next to I guess the two piles, we would call them, where one and two was. We stood back. We waited. –EMT Joseph Fortis

After that they decided to pull everybody out and I know -- what building was it? Building 5, I believe [sic], the other tall building there, the third building that came down, they were evacuating people. So everyone just pushed up West Street all the way up towards the high school there. I forget the name of the high school. –Firefighter Brian Russo

Then approximately I guess maybe two hours before number 7 came down, we went into Ground Zero and helped dig around and was there when they located Chief Feehan and one of the chiefs pulled us all out because they said 7 was going to come down. –Firefighter Kevin Quinn

So then they aborted us from setting up the tower ladder because they were worried about now Seven coming down. So then they pulled us away. This is where I kind of start remembering a lot.

We came around, I think we took Murray Street down the west side, and we stopped the rig and pulled over to the side and we all got out of the rig. We were standing, waiting for Seven to come down. We were there for quite a while, a couple hours.

During that time a couple of the members felt like we were being useless just standing around. We wanted to do something. So we started trying to walk down, trying to get into the pile. We kept on being turned around from chiefs, because they didn't want us near Seven.

As we were walking, we had to actually get a little closer to Seven. So we turned and looked at Seven, and that's when all the marble siding started popping off the side because it was starting to go down.

We worked our way putting out the car fires, which I don't know if there was ammunition, because there was a lot of cop cars, but there was explosions. Tires were exploding. There had to be about 15 or 20 car fires. We put them out as we worked our way down. –Firefighter Thomas Donato

They told us to get out of there because they were worried about 7 World Trade Center, which is right behind it, coming down. We were up on the upper floors of the Verizon building looking at it. You could just see the whole bottom corner of the building was gone. We could look right out over to where the Trade Centers were because we were that high up. Looking over the smaller buildings. I just remember it was tremendous, tremendous fires going on.

Finally they
pulled us out. They said all right, get out of that building because that 7, they were really worried about. They pulled us out of there and then they regrouped everybody on Vesey Street, between the water and West Street. They put everybody back in there.

Finally it did come down. From there -- this is much later on in the day, because every day we were so worried about that building we didn't really want to get people close. They were trying to limit the amount of people that were in there. Finally it did come down. That's when they let the guys go on. I just remember we started searching around all the rigs. –Firefighter Richard Banaciski

Then we were instructed to search through two or three buildings to make sure they were stable, and then they pulled everybody out because of the pink building. Was it 7 World Trade, that was going?
Q: Right. –Firefighter Adrienne Walsh

We operated until they finally started pulling people back. ...They pulled us back, I think it was like probably between 4 and 6, because of Seven. Seven was the concern at the time. –Firefighter Fred Marsilla

They put another engine company in there which augmented us. And the stream was even good enough to almost reach Tower 7. And then what happened was, we heard this rumbling sound and my father pulled us all back and then with that Tower 7 came down. –Firefighter Peter Blaich

At that point, Seven World Trade had 12 stories of fire in it. They were afraid it was going to collapse on us, so they pulled everybody out. We couldn't do anything. – Firefighter Maureen McArdle-Schulman (Susan Hagen and Mary Carouba, Women at Ground Zero, 2002, p. 17)

These firefighters mention being withdrawn from a different part of the WTC site because other buildings were believed to be in danger of collapse:
So we were in there just for a few minutes maybe and the chiefs
pulled us out. They told us we had to get out, so we got out, and then later on we went back in again, and they pulled us out once more, and that was it. –Firefighter Peter Giammarino

We proceeded to go back one block to that post then slowly but surely every two minutes or so
when we started to regroup we were
pulled back further and further and further until we were behind – until we were past Stuyvesant High School –Firefighter Dean Beltrami

While we were searching, that's when 7 World Trade Center was pretty much on fire, so after awhile, they -- we left, and they pulled a lot of people out of the rubble, because they were worried about 7 coming down, so we went back up Vesey, sat by the rig, because -- we kind of sat there for a long time, because they had pulled people back, because they were worried about 7 coming down. 

...Q. So before 7 came down, they just verbally told to get out, and the radios weren't up then, right? 

A. Yeah, I think our lieutenant said, "Look, we're going to take a break," and then just as we were leaving, they were moving everybody out anyway.

They were just saying, all right, just waving people out by signal, and that's pretty much it. We sat up by the rig which was being fed by the marine unit, and there was a line from us stretched to one of the tower ladders on Vesey, which had to also pull back, too, because of 7 coming down, and we just kind of stayed with the rig until 7 came down and kind of awaited orders and really didn't -- you know, really didn't get any assignments.

I guess they were worried about the stability of everything. –Firefighter Kevin McGovern

In this video of smoke billowing from WTC 7, several men (presumably firemen judging from their conversation, their proximity to the site, and their radio calls) speak about WTC 7:
"It's hot enough for the [Inaudible]"
"That's why he's
pulled everybody outta here."
"That building's 50 stories, definitely reaching over here."
"[Inaudible] get everybody outta there, that's for sure."

Waiting for WTC Building 7 to Fall