NEW YORK – The Fire Department of New York (search) on Friday made public thousands of pages of oral histories recorded by firefighters on Sept. 11, 2001, and hours of radio transmissions, as family members spoke out on reopening the investigation after reports of omissions to the Sept. 11 commission's report.
Firefighter Kirk Long, whose Engine 1 was sent to the World Trade Center's (search) north tower — the first to be hit by a plane and the second to collapse — described rushing into the tower as people were making their way out.
"I was watching every person coming down, looked at their face, just to make them happy that they were getting out and we were going in, and everything was OK," Long said in his oral history.
Long said he heard the north tower shake and thought something in the basement had exploded.
"At that time I never knew that the south tower had gone down," he said.
Some families and other critics of the city's response were hoping the documents would help them challenge the finding that many firefighters in the north tower heard but ignored an order to evacuate after the south tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m.
At least one fire lieutenant quoted in the oral histories said he heard the call and saw his colleagues leaving.
Fire Lt. Gregg Hansson, whose Engine 24 (search) was called at 8:47 a.m. — one minute after the first plane crash — described hearing the call to evacuate while he was on the 35th floor of the north tower.
"I was in the vicinity of the battalion chief, who was on the command channel, when I heard a mayday given over the command channel to evacuate the building," Hansson said in his oral history. "He started to tell everyone to evacuate, and I did also. I saw all the units get up, everybody got their gear, everybody started for the staircases to evacuate."
Compelled by a lawsuit filed by The New York Times, the department made public 15 hours of radio transmissions and more than 500 oral histories describing the rush to the World Trade Center, which saved an unknown number of civilians and cost 343 firefighters their lives. In all, 1,749 people died in the twin towers' collapse.
At least 450 relatives of dead firefighters have asked for copies of the documents, and they received them by express mail Friday, the fire department said.
Independent investigations with access to the documents have described major flaws in the city's response to the attack, including the emergency radios malfunctioning, police and firefighters not working together and vital messages going unheard.
A reading of some of the 12,000 pages of transcripts made the day's drama clear.
Firefighter Long described leaving the north tower and being helped by another firefighter to a building nearby that had some clean air.
"There was a lot of mothers and babies there," he said. "I was ready to leave. They were a little shook up because I was covered up with all this dust. I was leaving and they started to cry. They didn't want me to go without them. So I stayed for maybe 10 or 15 minutes until it cleared up a little bit. Then I walked them over to the west side, where there were boats and fresh air."
Another firefighter, Patrick Martin, said that after the south tower had collapsed and before the north tower came down, his lieutenant instructed him to go on a boat that was taking people to hospitals across the Hudson River.
"I told him I wasn't leaving," Martin said. "We were still missing one guy."
The city had withheld the material, claiming the release would violate firefighters' privacy and jeopardize the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, who ultimately pleaded guilty to conspiring with the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Families of victims expressed concern over reports that the Sept. 11 commission left out information on the hijackers before the attacks.
The panel reportedly was told about "Able Danger," a military intelligence unit that had identified Mohamed Atta and other hijackers a year before the attacks, but that information was not in the report, according to U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon (search), R-Pa., a champion of integrated intelligence-sharing among U.S. agencies.
“It compromises the integrity of the commission,” said Carol Ashley, whose daughter was killed. “It brings into question what else was left out of the commission report,” she told FOX News.
Mindy Kleinberg, who lost her husband in Sept. 11, attacks, agreed: "We fought very hard to have that commission put into place. We wanted to see that the mistakes that were made were fixed. And now four years later while we are a nation at war and a nation under threat, we are no closer to knowing the truth about 9-11 or to fixing the problems that are out there. ...
"If you keep leaving these people in their jobs, who fail to do their jobs … then we cannot expect to be any better off today than we were four years ago.”
Added Ashley: "There are other things that seem to be missing [from the report]. We don’t have the whole story — this is something that is apparent.”
In March, the state's highest court ordered the city to release the oral histories and radio transmissions but said the city could edit out potentially painful and embarrassing portions.
In another oral history, fire Lt. Howard Hahn described using his cell phone that day but said his fire department radio was barely functioning.
"I was able to get through, but the transmissions was very hard," Hahn said. It was very hard to control. You're basically doing your own show."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.