NEW YORK – Emotional relatives of firefighters killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center (search) pored over newly released transcripts and recordings Friday, listening intently for the voices of their loved ones and clues to their final minutes alive.
The records show some firefighters never heard the order to get out of the tower, said Antonia Fontana, who lost her son Lt. David Fontana on Sept. 11, 2001. Batteries in some firefighters' radios died; others never worked.
"I heard 'Mayday, Mayday, Mayday.' But there was no response," Fontana said.
"I knew this, but today I heard it," she said, her lips quivering. "This is the truth."
Identifying the remains of the 343 firefighters and other victims of the collapse has been slow, ending just this year. Fontana has received her son's remains "in bits and pieces," she said. "We got the ninth piece of David back in January of this year."
Bent over laptops in a Manhattan office tower Friday, Fontana and a half-dozen other firefighters' family members went over dispatches of frantic emergency calls, recorded on nearly two dozen CDs.
Two fire officers who survived the attack helped the group understand the department jargon as the families took notes and compared details.
"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, whose son Christian Regenhard died in the collapse, said 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, 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 from the rubble that some firefighters resorted to hand signals.
The department released the hours of radio transmissions and transcripts of more than 500 firefighters' oral histories after The New York Times successfully sued for the records.
"It's a disgrace that the families have had to fight for every single little bit of information that they have gotten," said Rosemary Cain of Massapequa, who lost her son, George Cain of Ladder 7.