Melissa C. Doi: Dancing Through Life

Beneath Melissa C. Doi's crisp Wall Street veneer beat the ebullient heart of a ballerina. Had her physique cooperated, Ms. Doi often said, she would have become a professional ballet dancer.

Instead, she followed her heart along a winding path of professional exploration. At Northwestern University she studied engineering, then switched to sociology. After graduation she took a job in public relations, then moved to banking. In 1998 she joined IQ Financial Systems, which develops financial software, and quickly became a manager.

She danced through it all. "She would get happy and just dance," said Lara Beth Metzger, a friend and former classmate. "Salsa, kick lines, everything."

Ms. Doi, 32, was an original thinker who questioned almost everything. "Whenever we had a staff meeting you could count on Melissa to ask the first question," said Eyal Altaras, her supervisor at IQ Financial.

Ms. Doi was especially close to her mother, Evelyn Alderete, and bought her a condo in the Bronx where they lived together. They were supposed to leave for a vacation in Italy on Sept. 14. "She could be a little pain in the neck," Ms. Alderete said. "But she was the best daughter anyone could have."

Profile from: The New York Times, February 12, 2002

GO HERE to hear Ms. Doi's telephone conversation with a 911 phone operator on 11 September 2001. Ms. Doi was calling from the 83rd floor of 2 World Trade Center, the South Tower. She was above the point of impact and was laying on the floor with 5 other people. The room was filled with smoke and the temperature was very,very hot. CAUTION: It is heart wrenching to hear the audio.


In Operators' Voices, Echoes of Men and Women Calling for Help  

The New York Times, March 31 2006

By Jim Dwyer

The city released partial recordings today of about 130 telephone calls made to 911 on Sept. 11, stripped of the voices of the people inside the World Trade Center but still evocative of their invisible struggles for life.

Only the 911 operators and fire department dispatchers can be heard on the recordings, their words mapping the calamity in rough, faint echoes of the men and women in the towers who had called them for help.

They describe crowded islands of fleeting survival, on floors far from the crash and even on those that were directly hit: Hallways are blocked on 104. Send help to 84. It is hard to breathe on 97. A man sits at his desk on 73, waiting for rescuers who could not get to him for hours, in a building that had only minutes.

Be calm, the operators implore. God is there. Sit tight.

The recordings, contained on 11 compact discs, also document a broken link in the chain of emergency communications.

The voices captured on those discs track the unseen callers as they are passed by telephone from one agency to another, moving through a confederacy of municipal fiefdoms -- police, fire, ambulance -- but almost never receiving vital instructions to get out of the buildings.

No more than two of the 130 callers were told to leave, the tapes reveal, even though unequivocal orders to evacuate the trade center had been given by fire chiefs and police commanders moments after the first plane struck. The city had no procedure for field commanders to share information with the 911 system, a flaw identified by the 9/11 Commission that city officials say has since been fixed.

The tapes show that many callers were not told to leave, but to stay put, the standard advice for high-rise fires. In the north tower, all three of the building's stairways were destroyed at the 92nd floor. But in the south tower, where one stairway remained passable, the recordings include references to perhaps a few hundred people huddled in offices, unaware of the order to leave.

The calls released yesterday bring to life the fatal frustration and confusion experienced by one unidentified man in the complex's south tower, who called at 9:08 AM, shortly after the second plane struck the building. For the next 11 minutes, as his call was bounced from police operators to fire dispatchers and back again, the 911 system vindicated its reputation as a rickety, dangerous contraption, one that the administration of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani tried to overhaul with little success, and one that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg hopes to improve by spending close to $1 billion.

The voice of the man, who was calling from the offices of Keefe Bruyette on the 88th floor of that building, was removed from the recording by the city. From the operator's responses, it appears that he wanted to go.

"You cannot -- you have to wait until somebody comes there," she tells the man.

The police operator urged him to put wet towels or rags under the door, and said she would connect him to the Fire Department.

As she tried to transfer his call, the phone rang and rang --15 times, before the police operator gave up and tried a fire department dispatch office in another borough. Eventually, a dispatcher picked up, and he asked the man to repeat the same information that he had provided moments earlier to the police operator. (The police and fire departments had separate computer dispatching systems that were unable to share basic information like the location of an emergency.)

After that, the fire dispatcher hung up, and the man on the 88th floor apparently persisted in asking the police operator -- who had stayed on the line -- about leaving.

"But I can't tell you to do that, sir," the operator said, who then decided to transfer his call back to the Fire Department. "Let me connect you again. O.K.? Because I really do not want to tell you to do that. I can't tell you to move."

A fire dispatcher picked up and asked -- for the third time in the call -- for the location of the man on the 88th floor. The dispatcher's instructions were relayed by the police operator.

"O.K.," she said. "I need you to stay in the office. Don't go into the hallway. They're coming upstairs. They are coming. They're trying to get upstairs to you."

Like many other operators that morning, she was invoking advice from a policy known as "defend in place" -- meaning that only people just at or above a fire should move, an approach that had long been enshrined in skyscrapers in New York and elsewhere.

At Keefe Bruyette, 67 people died, many of whom had gathered in conference rooms and offices on the 88th and 89th floors. Some tried to reach the roof, a futile trek that the 9/11 Commission said might have been avoided if the city's 911 operators had known that the police had ruled out helicopter rescues - another piece of information that had not been shared with them -- and that an evacuation order had been issued.

The calls were released today in response to a Freedom of Information request made by The New York Times on January 25, 2002, for public records concerning the events of Sept. 11. The city refused to release most of them on the grounds that they were needed to prosecute a man accused of complicity in the attacks, or contained opinions that were not subject to disclosure, or were so intensely personal that their release would be an invasion of privacy. The Times sued in state court, and nine family members of people killed in the attacks joined the case.

Judge Richard Braun of the state Supreme Court in Manhattan ruled in early 2003 that the vast majority of the records were public, but said that the city could remove the words of the 911 callers on privacy grounds. Over the next two years, the core of his ruling was affirmed by the appellate division and the New York State Court of Appeals.

That led to the release of the calls today. City officials said that 130 calls were made to 911 from inside the buildings. Of that group, officials were able to identify 27 people and notified their next of kin this week that they could listen to the complete call.

While that might seem like a small number of calls given that approximately 15,000 people were at the trade center that morning, officials said that many of those who got through to 911 were with large groups of people.

One of these groups was on the 105th floor of the south tower, a spot where scores of people had congregated after trying to reach the roof. Among them was Kevin Cosgrove, who worked on the 100th floor, and who had told his family that he had gone down stairs before turning back. He called 911, and said he was in an office overlooking the World Financial Center, across West Street, records show. He said he needed help, and was having difficulty breathing.

One of the recordings - city officials have refused to say who made the call - involved a man on the 105th floor who suggested desperate measures to improve the air.

"Oh, my God," said the dispatcher. "You can't breathe at all?"

The caller's words were deleted.

"Okay," said the dispatcher. "Listen, when you -- listen, please do not break the window. When you break the window -- " here, the caller interrupted.

"Don't break the window because there's so much smoke outside," the dispatcher said. "If you break a window, you guys won't be able to breathe; okay? Okay? So if there are any other doorways that you can open where you don't see the smoke."

The dispatcher tried to soothe the man, finally saying, "Okay. Listen, calm yourself down. We've got everybody outside; okay?"

The man spoke and the dispatcher assured him help was on the way.

"We are," the dispatcher said. "We're trying to get up there, sir. Like you said, the stairs are collapsed; okay? Everybody wet the towels and lie on the floor; okay? Put the wet towels over your head and lie down; okay? I know it's hard to breathe. I know it is."

People on the highest floors in both towers suffered acutely from the smoke and heat, even though they were many floors distant from the entry points of the planes that had crashed into the buildings. In the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald in the north tower, between 25 and 50 people found refuge in a conference room on the 104th floor. One man, Andrew Rosenblum, reached his wife in Long Island, and gave her the names and home phone numbers of colleagues who were with him. As he recited the information, she relayed it to neighbors. Mr. Rosenblum also called a friend and said that the group had used computer terminals to smash windows for fresh air.

Such drastic actions appeared to have been discouraged by the operator. Another Cantor Fitzgerald employee on the 104th floor was Richard Caggiano, who called 911 at 8:53, seven minutes after the plane hit the north tower.

"Don't do that, sir," the operator said. "Don't do that. There's help on the way, sir. Hold on."

Mr. Caggiano's words, which were not made public, prompted a question from the operator.

"Are y'all in a particular room?" she asked. "How many?"

She listened, then said, "25 or 30 in a back room. O.K. They're on the way. They're already there. You can't hear the sirens?"

Just before the south tower collapsed at 9:59 A.M., a spurt of calls reached the 911 operators. One of these was from Shimmy Biegeleisen, who worked for Fiduciary Trust in the south tower on computer systems. He was on the 97th floor where, by chance, an emergency drill had been scheduled for that day. Mr. Biegeleisen called his home in Brooklyn, spoke with his wife and prayed with a friend, Jack Edelman, who remembered hearing him say: "Of David. A Psalm. The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world and those that live in it."

At 9:52, he called 911. The building had seven more minutes before it would collapse. Mr. Biegeleisen would spend those minutes telling first the police operator, then the fire dispatcher, that he was on the 97th floor with six people, that the smoke had gotten heavy.

The police operator tried to encourage Mr. Biegeleisen.

"Heavy smoke. O.K. Sir, please try to keep calm. We'll send somebody up there immediately. Hold on. Stay on the line. I'm contacting E.M.S. Hold on. I'm connecting you to the ambulance service now."

As his call was transferred to the ambulance service, once again, the information about the smoke and the 97th floor was sought and delivered.

"Sir, any smoke over there?" asked the ambulance dispatcher. "O.K. the best thing to do is to keep -- keep down on the ground. All right? O.K.?"

The ambulance dispatcher hung up, but the original operator stayed on the line with Mr. Biegeleisen. She could be heard speaking briefly with someone else in the room, and then turned her attention back to him

"We'll disengage, O.K.?" the operator asked. "There were notifications made. We made the notifications. If there's any further, you let us know. You can call back."

Second later, the building collapsed.

Answering Calls From Inside the Tower

The New York Times, March 31 2006

The following are selected excerpts from the recordings released today by the New York City officials. The recordings are of 911 operators and Fire Department dispatchers handling emergency calls from people inside the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11. The recordings, from both of the twin towers and at various times across the 102 minutes from the first plane strike to the final building collapse, are only of one side of the conversation.


"Where is emergency? . . . the 106 floor? . . . 106, O.K. . . . This is on the 106 floor, right? . . . Hold on and [unclear?]. . . Come on, now.
Fire Department 408. Where's the fire? . . . O.K., 106th floor . . . What building are you? . . . Do not leave, O.K.? There's a fire or an explosion or something in the building. All right, I want you to stay where you are. . . . Get the windows open, if you can open up windows, and just sit by it. It's going to be a while because there's like a fire going on downstairs. . . . O.K. Just sit tight."


"Where is the emergency? . . . As far as we know, you have to say where you're at. O.K.? Hold on.
Fire Department 408. Where's the fire? . . . somebody comes and gets you. O.K.? O.K.. . . Calm down. O.K.? You've got everybody already responding . . . on 31st floor . . . heavy smoke in the . . . O.K. Give me the phone number you are calling from . . . Listen, I understand you're upset, but you must calm yourself down so you'll be able to breathe. O.K.? Fire Department, EMS, everybody is responding. We are aware of what's going . . . O.K., you are . . . What side of the building are you on? . . . Right, right. Yeah, there's something going on . . . . Calm down and try to breathe so that you'll be able to breathe."


"Sir. Hello. . . .everyone. O.K. I thought he was going to -- he disconnected the line. Don't go up. This is where the explosion's at. But I can't tell you to do that, sir. I hold on. Let me connect you again. O.K.? Because I really do not want to tell you to do that. I can't tell you to move. O.K.? . . . what to do. That's my -- I'm not trained to tell you to move . . . I will connect you again to the Fire Department, O.K. Sir? Hold on."


"O.K. Hello. You say you've got 100 people where? . . . floor. You guys can't get to the stairway. You can't get -- O.K. Is there a fire going on? There is no fire in where you are. Then it should be all right to open a window. . . . 100 people or 120 people? O.K. This is 911. . . . You had a plane hit the building and there has been another plane that hit the building. O.K.? Right at this point, open the window. If you can get a window open, open a window. You know, I'm not there. I can only go by . . . if there's a fire going on anywhere and you open the window, it's going to make the fire ignite more."


What is your emergency? O.K. one second, sir. One second. What floor are you on, sir? You're on 105th floor. Wow. Any injuries? Just hold on one second, sir. Hold on. I hear the fire alarm. They're coming. They're on their way. They're working on it. My God, this, don't worry, God is there. God is there. God is, don't worry about it. God is . . . Don't worry. They're on their way, sir. E.M.S. is there and . . . O.K. . . . E.M.S. Hold on. I'm going to connect you to E.M.S. Hold on one second, sir."


"O.K. Listen, calm yourself down. We'll be there. Everybody outside, O.K.? So we're going to we got the firemen out there. They're out . . . we are. We're trying to get up there, sir. Like you said before. . . . O.K.? . . . everybody wet the towels, lie on the floor. O.K.? Put the wet towels over your head and lie down. O.K.? I know it's hard to breathe. I know it is. Yes. . . . I understand, sir. I understand. I understand. There was two, O.K. one second, sir. . . . I've been routing it. I've been routing them . . . O.K. . . . O.K. Listen, just calm down. If you guys panic . . . O.K. Listen, listen, listen to me. Listen to me, O.K.? Listen, don't try not to panic. You can save the air supply by doing that. O.K.? Try not to panic. I understand what you . . . you have . . . I know it's hot. They said the stairwell collapsed and everything. The stairwell collapsed."


"Don't go anywhere. Just stay where you are. That's up to you. Just stay where you are. Sir, I'm not a fireman. I'm just telling these guys where to go. Just stay where you are. If you've got to break a window, break a window. Just sit tight. We'll get to you. . . . New York City Fire Department . . . All I can tell you is sit tight. All I can tell you to do is sit tight. All right? Because I got almost every fireman in the city coming."


"Excuse me. I had a guy on the phone. He was on a cell phone. I don't know who connected him because . . . So they evidently must be trapped up there. On the 105th floor, 1 World Trade Center. So F.D. knows. They said to him: stay where you are. But . . . but he told me to stay with him, but the line seems to be open but he's not responding. Should I stay with it? . . . He's not answering. It's no . . . so I don't know if it's really open or not. Or should I just hang up? I don't know. I entered that F.D. was notified. I put it on the job. But I don't know . . . doing now. Because it's like a line but no one is talking."


"Where is the emergency? What borough? . . . You're on the 93rd floor? Sir, I couldn't hear you. What floor? Sir, you're on a cell hello, sir, you're on a cell phone? You're on the 93rd floor? Is there a phone number that you're at? What is your name? But what is your name? Yes, I'm here. I'm not going to go nowhere. I'm right here with you. But is there a phone number on your cell phone if I do get disconnected? All right. You know, there's people up there trying to get you all out right now. Right? You're not by yourself. Yeah, I wish I could tell you. I don't know anything more than what people calling in tell me. I don't have any access to a radio or TV or anything. I don't know. I'm looking at the job and there are people there. I mean everybody's there. Please. Everyone's there and they're trying to get you all out. O.K.? You all have air? You all breathing O.K.? O.K., so you're breathing O.K. I'd say just relax and try to stay calm, try to keep . . . try to get back to try to get there to you as soon as we can. All right? Good luck. Was you able to call your family?"


"Smoky condition. Okay. Now you stay on the line with me here." Tells caller to cover people with soaking wet towels. Also stuff them in doors etc. "if it's not too late for that... Soakng wet towels for everybody first. Bless you."


"If you feel that your life is in danger, do what you must do, okay?... I can't give you any more advice than that."

For 911 Operators, a Catastrophe Beyond All Training

The New York Times, April 1 2006

By Al Baker and James Glanz

The calls had come in without pause, minute after minute. The emergency operators had no time to do anything but give advice and appeal for calm.

Then, about 9:50 that morning, the 911 phone line seemed to have gone dead. It was a rare moment for people near the center of the tragedy to reflect on what was happening, their thoughts recorded as they spoke quietly to each other on the same phones that connected them to the World Trade Center.

"I don't know what they're doing," an Emergency Medical Service operator said. She was referring to a group of perhaps five people she had been talking with on the south tower's 83rd floor before they had gone silent. "And it's an awful thing. It's an awful, awful, awful thing to call somebody and tell them you're going to die.

"That's an awful thing. I hope -- I hope they're all alive because they sound like they went -- they passed out because they were breathing hard, like snoring, like they're unconscious."

Nine minutes later, the south tower fell, and 29 minutes after that, the north tower went down. The moment for reflection soon passed and the calls began coming again as the final chapters in the tragedy unfolded.

So it went that morning for the people handling the 911 system.

Overworked, overwhelmed, they were thrust into situations for which no training could prepare them. Yet they kept picking up the phones, improvising answers even when they were exasperated, even when they were in the dark about evacuation orders that had been issued by fire and police commanders.

Helplessness increasingly defined their predicament, and it showed in some of their conversations.

"I wish I could tell you," one operator told a caller. "I don't know anything more than what people calling in tell me. I don't have any access to a radio or TV or anything. I don't know. I'm looking at the job and there are people there. I mean everybody's there. Please."

Yesterday, as the tapes of these calls were released, Patrick J. Limage, 30, a dispatcher for the Emergency Medical Service who took 10 or 15 calls from the towers that day, found his thoughts wandering back.

"In my mind I am just picturing how the situation was for these callers," Mr. Limage said. "What were they seeing as they tried to relay this information to me? I'm trying to play it back in my mind; what they were telling me. What were they feeling at the time?"

On a day when all New York seemed under siege, few felt the pressure more than the 911 operators into whose headsets poured the shouts for help. In moments, they were transformed from anonymous voices in the gears of government to something like priests. They were a last human voice for the dying as they juggled a volume and depth of calls unheard of in the city, all transmitted over an antiquated answering system whose designers had not envisioned such a surge.

In transcripts and tapes released by the city yesterday, the operators were not identified by name. But to listen to their voices is to revisit the stark dilemmas of that day, to touch the contrary themes that defined it -- dedication and ignorance, professionalism and mistakes -- as well as some fleeting moments of humanity that arose as they sought graceful ways to end conversations that were often the final calls of the doomed.

"Take care," they said. "Bless you." "Bye-bye." "Were you able to call your family?" "Hold on."

Inside the towers, flames seared. Smoke thickened. Questions tumbled, one after another. And in the 102 minutes between the time the first plane struck the north tower, at 8:46 a.m., and when that tower fell, at 10:28 a.m., the operators' demeanor often evolved, from the brisk professionalism, gruff efficiency of a worker with two hands and eight calls to answer to the more deliberate sympathies of human beings as the prospects for rescue became more remote.

Details emerged in the operators' conversations with people inside the towers, those calling from the fire zones, and with their colleagues seated next to them or in similar communications bunkers spread through the city as they flipped calls back and forth to one another.

Three types of municipal workers took the calls: police, fire and ambulance dispatchers and operators.

Union officials for the three groups tallied the numbers. About 35 Fire Department dispatchers were on duty that morning in five communications offices positioned in parks (as required by an early 1900's law) in each borough, including the Manhattan command at 79th Street in Central Park.

The Police Department's 911 operators, about 200 strong, were located in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Operators and dispatchers for the Emergency Medical Service, about 50 people, were seated at 1 Metro Tech in Brooklyn.

More than 3,000 calls flooded the 911 system in the first 18 minutes, and more than 57,000 in the 24 hours after the first plane hit the north tower. The calls from inside the towers totaled about 130, though many of those came from people in groups, sometimes of 100 or more.

Like everyone who collided in one way or another against this tragedy, the emergency operators had their own personal journeys to make on this day, states of mind marked by large and small epiphanies. The difference was that the operators had to continue doing their jobs while jousting with the raw reality inside the towers.

At times, the operators seemed overwhelmed. Then, perhaps trying to cut the tragedy down to something familiar, they often fixed on technicalities like which codes should be used to log the calls.

"Oh, that's what I need, another call," an operator said at 9:13. "Do you want to make a new job?" the operator asked, referring to the logging system in the computers. There was squabbling over how to classify the calls. One operator, however, cut his colleague off, telling him not to worry about the category. "The whole thing is a rescue," the operator said.

In answering the callers from the towers, many of them clearly took to heart the message of their training -- get the information fast and get off. Another call, another emergency is waiting. The operators became almost cocksure at times, exuding faith in the rescuers

"We will be there shortly," a fire dispatcher, No. 328, told a man who called at 9:02 a.m., presumably from the north tower. "We are in the building."

It was the clipped unemotional language of a worker with too many calls to answer, all of them important. "The address of the fire?" "One World or Two World?" "What floor are you on?"

They were efficient to the point of being abrupt: "I got to answer more calls," a fire dispatcher told a man at 8:51 a.m. "Can you speed it up?"

At 8:58 a.m., a woman reached a fire dispatcher to report a car on fire at Albany and West Streets, just outside the towers. "O.K., have you looked up toward the top of the Trade Center lately?" the dispatcher asked. "That's probably what it's from."

Other times, simple confusion reigned. Were they facing a plane crash, an explosion, a fire? All three? A lack of knowledge about what was happening shone through in some exchanges.

"Do you have any news about it?" one operator asks another. "Like any of the latest?"

"No, nothing later," is the response. "Are they still standing? The World Trade Center is there, right?"

Amid the drama the operators faced a welter of mechanical problems. Computers did "crazy things," phones went down, and they discussed the need to "dupe everything," according to the transcripts. And in the middle of it, the rest of the city called with routine emergencies. At 9:30 a.m. it was a report of a man whose leg had gotten stuck in a revolving door on Lexington Avenue.

Sometimes it got ugly as people involved in other emergencies, overcome with worry, demanded immediate assistance.

"A lot of them were very abusive because they felt they were being ignored," Mr. Limage said. "Some of these people were cursing us out."

And the operators had concerns for themselves: At one point, worried that terrorists might train weapons on their posts, the city's very communications hubs, they called their local police precincts to ask for police officers to come stand sentry at the doors to their buildings.

As the day wore on, they faced impossible decisions to hold the line, or end the call and hear from another terrified soul.

At 9:49 a.m., fire dispatcher 408, identified by his union leader as James Raftery, hung on for almost two minutes with a man stuck on the 105th floor, telling him at least 12 times that help is "coming," it's "on the way." Finally, exasperated, he swore help will come.

"I swear to you," Mr. Raftery said, as the call ended. "I swear to you, we'll get somebody up to you."

Calls came over and over from some of the same spots in the towers where pockets of people had sought shelter, producing fragmentary narratives as conditions worsened. At about 9:14, one operator took a call from the 86th floor in the north tower. "Trapped on the 86th floor," the operator said.

Another call came from the floor 30 minutes later. At least one call before and after those were also logged to fire dispatchers.

"Do you have a phone number to your home that you would like for us to call anybody?" an operator asked in one of the later calls. And then, after one of the exchanges had ended, another operator who had been on the line asked: "I wonder what's taking them so long to get to the 86th floor?"

Repeat calls came from the 105th floor of the north tower, where 60 people had gathered, as well as other floors like the 97th and 83rd floors of the south tower.

Some of the calls for help came not from inside the building, but from suburban police departments who had been called by relatives of those trapped. Even when relatives contacted by people trapped in the towers called local police stations, the calls wound up in the laps of the city's 911 operators.

Some dispatchers and supervisors now feel stricken by any suggestion that lives were lost because they relied on the traditional policy of "defend in place" firefighting, where only those at or above a fire in a high rise building should move.

"When you listen to the tapes, it sounds like we are telling them the wrong thing and in reality we are telling them the right thing," said Judith Salgado, 36, a borough supervisor who worked in the Fire Department's Manhattan command center on Sept. 11. "No one thought those buildings were going to come down."

Mr. Raftery, identified by the head of his union, David Rosenzweig, did not want to speak about his memories of Sept. 11. Mr. Rosenzweig said he was stung by criticism after a tape of him speaking was broadcast Thursday on the news. Lost in it all, however, is any praise for the operators for their commitment, professionalism and control that day, Mr. Rosenzweig said.

The day was so traumatic, some could not return. That was the case for Monsitah Corney, who fielded several calls from those in the towers, Mr. Rosenzweig said. She left the job soon after Sept. 11, never to answer 911 calls again.

For Ivan Goldberg, who was working as deputy director of dispatch operations for the Fire Department that day, working at the Manhattan command center that day, "changed my life forever."

"A lot of dispatchers have retired in the last four years," he said. "For me, the decision to leave the job three months after the incident was hastened by the fact that the Fire Department became a very sad place to work." He paused, and added, "I lost a lot of friends and co-workers and a first cousin."

Mr. Rosenzweig said 135 new dispatchers were trained over 18 months in 2002 and 2003, reflecting the rapid exodus. Mr. Goldberg said that rehashing the day had opened old wounds for many. But he said that, looking back, "they did the best job they could have done, given the circumstances."

It is the haunting voices on the tapes of that day, the earliest historic trace of the unfolding horror, that seem to bear out the truth of Mr. Goldberg's belief in the valor of his colleagues.

As the seconds ticked away and the end came near, sympathy for those near death shone through again and again.

"Stop talking and let the air ..." a fire dispatcher, No. 328, said at 10:17 a.m., to a man on the 97th floor of the north tower. "You're losing your oxygen. So try to be quiet and remain calm. O.K.?"

When the terrible circumstances began to slip beyond human control, the operators sometimes reached further.

"Just hold on one second, sir," a police operator said to a man on the 105th floor. "Hold on. I hear the fire alarm. They're coming. They're on their way. They're working on it. My God, this -- don't worry. God is there. God is there. God is -- don't worry about it. God is -- don't worry."

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