Copyright 2002 Newsday, Inc.
Newsday (New York, NY). . . 1/26/2002

David Arce of Engine 33 was one. Michael Boyle, his friend and colleague, was another. Dennis Carey of HazMat 1 was a third. Each firefighter was off-duty when the attack on the Twin Towers took place, rushed to the scene to help in the massive rescue operation, and lost his life.

In all, 60 of the 343 firefighters lost on Sept. 11 had been off-duty when they responded, Fire Department spokesman Frank Gribbon told Newsday Friday.

That number alone illustrates the courage of the day. "The people that came in off-duty, their actions were heroic," said Peter Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. "The entire department responded." But the figure also has raised policy questions and delicate emotional issues within the FDNY. "When we finally reach a point where the healing process is starting, that starts the dialogue about a lot of these extremely important questions," said an official of another fire union.

On Tuesday, Deputy Chief Charles Blaich said commanders "lost track" of who was in the building during the response. "They were trying to do something worthwhile," he said. "There has to be a level somewhere saying, 'That's wonderful, now get out of here.' There has to be someone to make that hard call." As another chief, who didn't want to be identified, put it Friday: "If the worst case scenario occurs, if God forbid, there is another terrorist attack, the response would have to be limited in some way," he said. "It's my sense that the department will come down with something more restrictive.

"The scene is very difficult to control when you have lots of people showing up," he said. "We have to have command and control. We have to know who is in there."

Department policy prevents off-duty firefighters from "riding along" to fires. In more routine situations, off-duty firefighters who do show up at the scene are not allowed to directly participate. The large number of off-duty firefighters who responded to the scene before the collapses was caused by a confluence of several factors: The planes struck at a moment that firefighters across the city were changing tours that morning. A large number of off-duty firefighters were still at their stations. Many of those who just finished their tours went to the scene with their units.

Once they learned of the attack, many off-duty firefighters went to the scene on their own, after stopping at the nearest firehouse to don protective gear. Before the collapses, the department issued a special "recall" order, directing all off-duty firefighters to report for duty to the nearest firehouse. The Fire Department is performing an ongoing review of the Sept. 11 response and may bring in outside consultants to assist.

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