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The Port Authority Police: The World Trade Center's Public Safety Agency

Author: Bill Murphy

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2011-09-11
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Originally Published in our Nov/Dec 2001 issue. 

The September 11th atrocities claimed the lives of 37 police officers of the New York/New Jersey Port Authority Police Department, including the department’s Chief, Deputy Chief, and Inspector, and destroyed the department’s headquarters and 9-1-1 center.

An officer from every rank gave their lives in what New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani called “the greatest rescue of modern times, since in so doing the rescuers saved more than 25,000 people.”  

The Port Authority Police originated back on June 1, 1928, when 40 men were selected to police the newly opened bridge, today known as the Staten Island Bridges.   These three bridges connect Staten Island with New Jersey’s three cities of Bayonne, Elizabeth, and Perth Amboy.  After assuming control of the Holland Tunnel, officers from the Staten Island Bridges merged with the Holland Tunnel’s police unit, and the Port Authority Police force was born.  These forerunners became the foundation of a unique law enforcement team.  Today the force is comprised of more than 1,400 men and women who secure the Port of New York.

In order to carry out their responsibilities in their demanding jurisdiction the Port Authority Police have been given full law enforcement powers in both New York and New Jersey.  The primary jurisdiction is an area within a 25-mile radius of the Statue of Liberty that is  known as the Post District, which includes the world’s busiest regional airport system, the World Trade Center, the largest container port on the East Coast, and some of the most heavily traveled bi-state bridges, tunnels, and railroads in the country.

The primary responsibilities of the Port Authority includes law enforcement, fire fighting and rescue operations.  Officers are assigned to a vast range of duties, which include active patrol, crime prevention, criminal investigations, traffic control, emergency first response assistance and drug interdiction.

The Port Authority’s willingness to serve the people of the New York-New Jersey regions is demonstrated not only by their actions on the job but also by the dedicated response from off-duty of several of the missing officers.

The World Trade Center (WTC) is the centerpiece of the Port of New York, and is the home of 2,000 Port Authority civilian employees.  The WTC is also the site of a shopping mall and three different subway stations and the PATH train station that handles 100,000 commuters a day.  Each floor of the Trade Center is roughly a square acre.  The WTC towers provided the New York metropolitan area with AM/FM radio, television, and cellular signals as well as strategic repeaters for all of the areas emergency services, including police, fire, and federal law enforcement.

The World Trade Center Precinct was rebuilt after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing left in it shambles, injuring many of the same officers who were to give their lives on September 11th.  Formerly located on B-1 Level, the police command facility was one level below Vesey Street.  The new stationhouse was relocated to #5 WTC.  On September 11,2001, the morning roll call broke at 0645 and 28 officers began their tour under the Command of Captain Kathy Mazza.


WTC Command Center

The US Secret Service, Customs Service, and a host of state and federal law enforcement agencies called WTC their home.  The WTC Command Center, hub of Port Authority Police operations, was well known by all the Diplomatic Security Staffs, and the doors were always open to any law enforcement or fire officer.  The coffee pot was always on and the police communications desk was the check in point.  It was even common to see a Police Horse tied up in front of the Precinct.

The desk officer was responsible for all outbound emergency calls placed at the World Trade Center.  The internal Centrex would route 9-1-1 calls placed in the building(s) to the Command Center desk.  A dedicated hotline was set up with the NYPD 9-1-1 center and radio communications across the entire metropolitan area were shared with many agencies.  Adjacent to the police desk was the Operations Center, which is also staffed 24-hours a day by a crew who monitor elevator operations, lighting, and other building activities.  In the event of fire, the Police Desk/Operations Center became the command post for the New York City Fire Department. 

The strange and uncomfortable thing about being in the stationhouse was that no one could see the superstructure of the building.  Conditions on the outside were radioed back by the engines, rescues, or ladder companies who responded on an alarm of fire.

Anyone who visited the WTC knew that the elevators of the World Trade Center were not ordinary elevators.  These were people rockets that could jet you to the top of the world in minutes.  They were designed to speed people to different destinations much like the New York Subway system.  To get to the eighth floor you would take the express car to 78 and change for the local that served those designated floors.  The express elevators could hold up to 45 passengers and every visitor marveled at the feeling in your stomach as you climbed.  The wind whistling and occasionally the car bumping as it slowed to its destination.

The sky lobbies on the 44th and 78th floors were like mini Grand Central Terminals at 0845 in the morning as every one is trying to get to their offices.  It could take 15 minutes to get down to the Concourse level for lunch.

Lt. Mike Podalak made the most famous WTC elevator rescue the day of the 1993 bombing.  Mike climbed onto an elevator, barely visible amid the dark, acrid smoke that rose from the truck bomb that exploded in the basement.  The elevator was jammed with school kids who were at the WTC for a field trip.  He opened the hatch and calmed everyone inside as he was able to get the mechanics to liberate the car from the emergency brake .He ended the rescue by descending 80 floors while hanging on for his life on the exterior roof of the car.  All of the kids were safe and Mike got an interview on The Today Show the next morning.


September 11th

September 11th was a different story. 

At 0848 hours, an FDNY engine company investigating a man hole problem around Chambers Street. near Bwyan, called in the fire alarm as they witnessed the first airplane crash into the building.  Inside the WTC, fire alarms went off like crazy – all kinds, on numerous floors.  Waterflow alarms, smoke alarms, frantic calls for help, elevator call boxes, telephone calls… it was if the building exploded.  No one in stationhouse or in the lobbies level would ever know the rest of the story.  There would be no elevator rescues on this day as the thousands of gallons of jet fuel splashed and leaked down the elevator shafts extending the fire trapping people.  Some of the elevator cables were severed and the cars came to a breaking halt in their shafts. 

The calls from the people trapped in the stuck elevators came into the WTC Command Center, until the calls for help stopped.  Uniformed and plainclothes officers rushed up the internal fire stairs to help usher people out of the building.  Port Authority Officers are also cross-trained in fire fighting and rescue.  None of them ever conceived that both towers would collapse within ninety minutes, killing more than 300 firefighters and officers, two paramedics, and more than a hundred police officers.  

The dedication to respond in an emergency is always a public safety officer’s first response.  Even Sgt. Jimmy Lynch who was off on medical leave with a chronic knee hobbled into action.  He was on his way to see the Police Surgeon on the 64th Floor when he began evacuating people.  Sgt. Lynch is presumed dead.

Officer Ken Tietjen commandeered a city taxi to take him from Penn Station to the WTC.  Inspector Tim Norris raced from his office across the river and raced into action with Lt. John Kassimatis.  “I survived by scrambling under a truck when the building collapsed,” Norris said.  “There were so many fireman I the stairwells don’t know what happened to them.” Kassimatis still does not know why he survived.

Up on the 67th floor of the North Tower, there was a high level meeting with the Executive Director of the Port Authority, Neil D. Levin, and the Police Command Staff, including Public Safety Director Fred Marone, Chiefs Jim Romito and Tony Infante.  All of these men are among the missing.  Port Authority civilian employees report seeing all of the men helping people who were badly burned on the 68th floor.

Police K-9 Officer Dave Lim left his canine and responded to the concourse level where he was met with one body after another.  Lim knew that this battle would be about saving as many lives as possible by getting people out of the building complex.  Dave’s police dog, Sirius, became the only canine casualty of September 11th.

Emergency Services Police Officer Liam Callahan, a father of four, had changed shifts to attend a rescue seminar.  He worked the midnight shift for years but on Sept 11th, he was working the day shift.  Liam and his wife celebrated their twentieth wedding anniversary on Sept. 10th.  He will be buried on October 13th in Rockaway New Jersey where he served as President of the local school board. 

Capt. Tony Whitaker who responded from the Hudson River Tunnel and Bridges Command Center.  Many PA officers responded from the three metropolitan area airport crash crews.  Officer George Howard, an Emergency Service Unit Officer assigned to JFK Airport, responded from his home to the Towers.  This would be his last alarm.  

For a brief moment Wednesday morning Sept.12th, amid the suffering that engulfed the World Trade Center, a cheer rang down the ruined streets.  It happened when Sgt. John McLoughlin, a 21-year veteran of the Port Authority was pulled alive from the mountains of rubble, having survived for nearly 24 hours after the south tower collapsed around him. 

McLoughlin, whom colleagues described as a skilled rescue worker, was helping to secure the area of the 82nd floor of #1 World Trade Center when the two towers came crashing to the ground.  He crashed, too, all the way to a tiny crawl space 50 feet beneath the rubble, where he lay for nearly 24 hours, pinned down and rolled into a little ball. 

When rescue workers finally plucked McLoughlin from the ruins at 7:45 a.m.  Wednesday, the crowd around him allowed themselves a moment of exultation after so much horror and despair. 

Wednesday night, McLoughlin was at Bellevue Hospital Center.  Rescue workers said his legs were broken but that he otherwise seemed fine.  He remains in the hospital.

This Flag was recovered atop the wreckage on the second day. It is believed to have been the only flag "flying" at the top of  WTC 2 on the morning of September 11th.  Since its recovery it has been flown at PAPD memorial service in honor of the 37 deceased heroes.

The history of the Port Authority changed on Sept.  11,2001.  There have only been 7 officers lost in the line of duty in the history of the Department.September 11th.  There will be thirty-seven Inspector’s Funerals in the coming weeks for the Port Authority Police Department.  P.A.Captain Kathy Mazza was one of two female rescuers killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center.  She is also the first female officer of the Authority to give her life in the line of duty.

The heroic dedication of each officer, medic, and firefighter who died in the World Trade Center was symbolized by Officer George Howard’s police shield, which had been recovered from the WTC wreckage and was presented to President Bush by Howard’s mother.  The President, addressing Congress and the nation on September 13th, said “I will always carry this badge in my pocket as a reminder of the dedication of these brave officers.”

Capt. Tony Whitaker lost seven men from his squad.  The Captain said,” I wake up in the middle of my sleep, when I can sleep.  I sent those men into the Towers and they went to their death to save the others.”

Bill Murphy is a retired Port Authority Police Sergeant.  He holds Master’s Degrees in Public Administration and Electronic Business Managemen and is a frequent lecturer and police expert who can be seen on the Fox News Channel.  He resides in Tierra Verde, Florida.


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