, Salem, MA

Special Report

September 9, 2011

Local FEMA team in the heart of a disaster


"We have never done an official count" on how many bodies the team recovered, Foster said. "Every (team member) knows their own number."

Alarms sounding everywhere

Then there was the noise. Firefighters responding to the attacks had worn personal alert safety devices, little boxes designed to emit a sound if no motion is detected for a certain period of time. The sound is meant to alert other firefighters that one of their own is down or incapacitated.

The pile of debris was ringing with the high-pitched alarms, and for a while, the noise "gave us a little hope that we might find someone," Giunta said.

"You'd crawl through a maze of steel, but you'd always get to the point where there's a dead end and you can't crawl anymore. But you could still hear that noise."

By the eighth day, the team was exhausted. In the 2003 documentary "Looking for my Brother," filmmaker John Kenney chronicles his brother Tom Kenney's work as part of the Massachusetts Task Force 1 team.

"Tom calls; he sounds quiet and distant," John says in a voice-over in the film. "Whatever spark was there earlier in the week is gone. His voice is almost unrecognizable, he is so hoarse from yelling and from breathing in the smoke and soot."

Foster said, "I think we were all like that. We could either stay or go. After eight days, we realized that we would not be saving anyone."

Arnum added, "It was a hard decision. When we first heard (we were leaving), the first reaction was there's still a lot of work to do. People can survive in a structure X number of days, and we didn't want to leave with work left to be done. Then reality set in that we're not going to get the job done. It was going to take months and years to get this cleaned up."

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