NEW YORK (AP) – After years of legal battle, the Fire Department of New York is releasing thousands of documents offering a detailed and intimate look at the heroism and missteps behind its response to the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attack.

The department plans to make public today hours of radio transmissions and hundreds of oral histories telling the story of firefighters’ rush to the twin towers on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, to help evacuate thousands of people in what some have called the greatest rescue operation in U.S. history and others have called a chaotic example of poor planning and miscommunication.

The information released today is unlikely to fundamentally change the understanding of the Sept. 11 attack. Independent investigations, such as that by the Sept. 11 commission, with access to the histories and recordings have described major flaws in the city’s response to the attack: Emergency radios did not function properly. Police and firefighters did not work together. Discipline broke down. Vital messages went unheard.

But some of the families of the 343 firefighters killed say they hope the information will cast additional light on the problems that contributed to the death toll. “I want to know what happened to my son,” said Sally Regenhard, whose son, Christian Regenhard, died that morning.

Regenhard, who has become an advocate of fire department and building code reform, said she still does not know exactly where her son died.

“Maybe there will be something on there that gives me a clue as to what happened to my son,” she said.

“I have not heard where he was sent, when he was sent, what he was supposed to accomplish when he went in.”

Some families and other critics of the city’s response hope the new documents will help them challenge the conclusion that many firefighters in the north tower heard but heroically chose to ignore an evacuation message issued after the south tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m.

Glenn Corbett, a professor of fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an adviser to Regenhard’s Skyscraper Safety Campaign, said he believes that outdated radios prevented many from receiving that vital message.

He said he did not find it credible that perhaps hundreds of firefighters ignored a mayday message from their commanders.

“I’m going to look for the people saying that in those transcripts,” he said. “I don’t believe it. I just don’t believe that.”

Regenhard and other victims’ families joined The New York Times in suing the City of New York in 2002 to release the more than 15 hours of radio transmissions and 12,000 pages of oral histories collected by the fire department in the days after the towers’ collapse. The city argued that releasing the histories and radio recordings would violate firefighters’ privacy and jeopardize the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty in April to six counts of conspiring with the Sept. 11 hijackers.

New York’s highest court ruled in March that the city had to release the oral histories and recordings but could excise potentially painful and embarrassing portions.

At least 450 relatives of firefighters killed in the trade center collapse have requested copies of the oral histories and radio recordings, and they will be receiving them by express mail Friday, the fire department said.

An FDNY spokesman said the department would not comment on the documents before their release.


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