NEW YORK – Emotional family members of firefighters killed on Sept. 11 spent Friday morning poring over newly released transcripts and recordings to find out what happened to loved ones trapped in the World Trade Center towers.

Bent over laptops on the 29th-floor of an office building in midtown Manhattan, they spent three hours coming closer to their relatives’ last moments on that morning of terror in 2001.

Most of all, they were trying to hear or read anything that might give them clues to exactly where and how their loved ones met their end.

“I heard ‘Mayday, Mayday, Mayday.’ But there was no response,” said Antonia Fontana, who lost her son, Lt. David Fontana of Squad 1 in Brooklyn. His remains were delivered to the family “in bits and pieces. We got the ninth piece of David back in January of this year.”

Fontana said the transcripts and tapes showed that firefighters never received the radio messages ordering them to get out. Batteries in some radios died; others never worked.

“I knew this, but today I heard it,” she said, her lips quivering. “This is the truth.”

Dispatches of frantic emergency calls, recorded on nearly two dozen CDs, were played as everyone took notes, comparing and discussing details. Two fire officers who survived the attack helped the group understand department jargon in the released materials.

“I never heard any of this before – the chaos,” said retired Lt. Jerry Reilly, who escaped the trade center’s north tower. His eyes teared up as he explained that “the radio communication was terrible. But I knew before 9-11 – that these new radios were terrible in the field. And we got no training for them.”

Sally Regenhard, mother of 28-year-old Christian Regenhard, charged that a breakdown of communications among firefighters led to her son’s death and that the response to the attack “has been sanitized by the city of New York in an effort to put all this under the rug.”

She and her husband, retired police Sgt. Al Regenhard, learned a sliver of information about their son’s last minutes during the three-hour session. He had been filling in that day for a firefighter in Engine 279 of Red Hook, Brooklyn, which was told to head toward the south tower; she even learned the name of his commander.

“It’s very emotional. It’s very difficult,” she said. “But it’s no harder than knowing every day that my son is gone.”

Al Fuentes, a retired fire captain, said communications were so bad before he was pulled out of the rubble that some firefighters resorted to hand signals to connect with survivors trapped in the Marriott Hotel, damaged by falling debris.

The department made public the hours of radio transmissions and transcripts of more than 500 firefighters’ oral histories after The New York Times successfully sued for the records. The rush to the trade center saved an unknown number of civilians, but cost 343 firefighters their lives.

A group of victims’ families who have become advocates for reforming building codes and emergency response had eagerly awaited the release of the records in hopes they would challenge the notion that many firefighters in the north tower heard, but chose to ignore, an evacuation order issued after the south tower collapsed.

Rosemary Cain, of Massapequa, whose lost her son, George Cain, of Ladder 7 in Manhattan, said: “It’s a disgrace that the families have had to fight for every single little bit of information that they have gotten.”


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