One day after the Brainerd Fire Department held a training exercise in the city's North Star Apartments high-rise building, Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Mahle heard the news on the radio Tuesday that rocked many Americans to the core.
"I was pretty shocked like everyone else," he said of the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. "It's pretty tragic."
Mahle said New York firefighters didn't have a chance against the fire that swept through the World Trade Center towers. He said the jet fuel load was well beyond what the building's sprinkler system and fire lines could handle.
Typically with normal fuel loads, a fire burns at 1,200 to 1,500 degrees, Mahle said, adding that a good sprinkler system can keep the fire in check at these temperatures if not totally extinguish the fire.
Given the jet fuel load, the World Trade Center fires may have burned at 2,400 to 2,500 degrees, Mahle said. At these temperatures, steel starts to fail within a 10-minute window.
The height of the building also worked against rescue and firefighting efforts, he said. Every floor of a building doubles the firefighting personnel and equipment needs, Mahle said.
He said his heart goes out to all the employees who were working in these buildings, as well as the countless rescue workers, including the hundreds of New York City firefighters who are unaccounted for since the collapse of the towers.
After hearing of the tragedy, Mahle said he experienced many emotions, beginning with disbelief, followed by anger and then hopelessness. "For me, it's still quite unbelievable it happened," he said.
He urged people not to overreact. He said people should try to focus on keeping their lives stable. In addition, he said it's important for adults to be honest with children, reassure them they are basically safe.
"Kids are affected by this type of thing," he said.
Today, Mahle said he's distressed by the loss of life the terrorism caused, including the losses of firefighters and police officers.
He said this New York fire unit is devastated, with more than 300 firefighters missing and presumed dead. Included as missing are major leaders in this fire department, including its chief, department chaplain and assistant chief, Mahle said.
As the remaining firefighters are busy with rescue efforts, the impact of this loss may not be realized by this unit for weeks to come, Mahle said. "It professionally pains me. I personally cried about it last night."
In the United States each year, about 100 firefighters are lost in the line of duty, Mahle said. "That statistic this year will be totally blown out of the water. For those of us who work in the field, it's particularly emotional."
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