Orio Palmer

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Orio Palmer
Palmer's name is located on Panel S-17 of the National September 11 Memorial's South Pool, along with those of other first responders.
Born Orio Joseph Palmer
(1956-03-02)March 2, 1956
Died September 11, 2001(2001-09-11) (aged 45)
South Tower, 2 World Trade Center, New York City
Cause of death Collapse of the South Tower
Residence Valley Stream, New York
Other names Orio
Education Associate degree (Electrical Technology)
Alma mater Cardinal Spellman High School; Westchester Community College
Occupation Battalion Chief, FDNY Battalion 7; Firefighter
Employer Fire Department of New York
Known for Lost his life while rescuing civilians trapped inside the World Trade Center on 9/11; first to reach the impact zone in 2 World Trade Center.
Notable work Numerous papers and articles regarding Firefighting and Firefighter Safety; article(s) regarding Radio communications in High-rise building fires and use of repeaters to ensure communication while fighting High-rise building fires.
Television 9/11 (CBS); In Memoriam: New York City, 9/11/01 (HBO)
Title Battalion Chief
Spouse(s) Debbie Palmer
Children 3
Call-sign Battalion 7
Awards Numerous Medals of Valor, Unit Citations

Orio Joseph Palmer (March 2, 1956 – September 11, 2001) was a Battalion Chief of the New York City Fire Department who died while rescuing civilians trapped inside the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.[1][2][3] Palmer led the team of firefighters that reached the 78th floor of the South Tower, the floor where the plane had struck the building.[1][2]

According to The 9/11 Commission Report, audio and video recordings prominently featuring Orio Palmer have played an important role in the ongoing analysis of problems with radio communications during the September 11 attacks.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Palmer had 3 children. He graduated from Cardinal Spellman High School in The Bronx, New York in 1974.[5] He held an associate degree in electrical technology.[6]

According to John Norman, Palmer was very fit and ran marathon races.[7] Historian Peter Charles Hoffer wrote that Palmer was "in superb condition".[8]


Reporter Michael Daly wrote, "The 45-year-old Palmer was one of the department's rising stars, renowned for his smarts and nerve and decency, as well as his physical fitness."[2] He was married to Debbie Palmer, and had three children,[3] Dana, Keith and Alyssa.[9] Palmer finished the New York City marathon as well as a dozen half-marathons and a couple of triathlons. Orio was also the first FDNY member to be awarded the department's physical fitness award five times.[citation needed]

He was said to be one of the "most knowledgeable people in the department" about radio communication in high-rise fires,[5][6] and authored a training article for the department on how to use repeaters to boost radio reception during such emergencies.[6] Palmer was also published in a number of nationally distributed firefighting magazines as well as the internal FDNY newsletter. He also taught FDNY promotional classes at night while working toward his own bachelor's degree in Fire Engineering from John Jay College.[citation needed]

September 11[edit]

North Tower lobby[edit]

Footage of Palmer was used in the CBS film 9/11, and later in the HBO film In Memoriam: New York City, 9/11/01.[10] The video footage was shot by French documentary filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet at the North Tower. It shows Palmer conferring with Deputy Chief Peter Hayden and Assistant Chief Donald Burns at the North Tower. The South Tower had just been hit. The men discuss how to respond to the two towers, and the communications problems they faced. The sound of a falling body hitting pavement outside reverberates. According to Michael Daly, "Palmer stood steady and calm, an air pack on his back, a red flashlight bound with black elastic to his white helmet, a radio in his left hand. His face showed only a readiness to do whatever was needed." The men decided that Burns and Palmer would proceed to the South Tower.[2]

Ascent of South Tower[edit]

United Airlines Flight 175 strikes the 78th floor of the South Tower
United Airlines Flight 175 strikes the 78th floor of the South Tower.

After arriving at the South Tower of the World Trade Center, Palmer single-handedly fixed an elevator and took it up to the 41st floor sky lobby. Once there, he went on to run up 37 flights of stairs to reach the plane’s impact zone on the 78th floor. Orio was met there by Fire Marshal Ronald Paul Bucca; they were the only first responders to reach the impact zone that day. There he reported, “Numerous 10-45s, code ones” or fatalities. Orio directed survivors of the impact how to get out of the building, relayed essential information to firemen below over the radio in an attempt to form a strategy to combat the flames and evacuate survivors, and brought comfort to those stuck and injured on the 78th floor by assuring them that help was coming.

Remnants of the South Tower after its collapse

When an audiotape of communication with the firefighters was released, it revealed that firefighters did not anticipate the building's collapse. Palmer, issuing an order to one of his subordinates, was recorded seconds before the building collapsed. Peter Charles Hoffer described Palmer's professionalism during the final moments of his life: "Listening to Palmer and his comrades on the recovered tape, one can hear the urgency of men working at high efficiency, but there was never a hint that the clock was running out on them."[8]

Transcripts of Palmer's last broadcast were published in 2002. The actual recordings were made public in 2005, as the result of a lawsuit filed by The New York Times and families of some of the firefighters killed on September 11. Monica Gabrielle of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign commented on the release of the tapes: "Today we are one step closer to learning what happened on 9/11 in NYC — where we excelled, where we failed."[11]

According to The Times of London, "Chief Palmer made it to the impact zone on the 78th floor of the south tower before the building collapsed. Once there the battalion chief reported 'Numerous 10–45s, Code Ones' — fire department code for dead people."[11]

When new tapes were made public in 2006, Palmer's brother-in-law, FDNY Lt. Jim McCaffrey, stated, "It was emotional sitting with my wife and sister-in-law, listening to the tapes. You're hearing him right at that point prior to the collapse, about the things he saw on the 78th floor. Before that, we didn't even know he got higher than the 40th floor."[12]

Role in analysis of 9/11[edit]

In 2004, The 9/11 Commission Report relied on analysis of the North Tower lobby conversations between Palmer, Peter Hayden and Donald Burns in the film shot by Jules and Gedeon Naudet to better understand what was and was not working on the fire department's communications in those critical minutes. The report stated that, "Of particular concern to the chiefs—in light of FDNY difficulties in responding to the 1993 bombing—was communications capability. One of the chiefs recommended testing the repeater channel to see if it would work." Peter Hayden, who survived, later testified, "People watching on TV certainly had more knowledge of what was happening a hundred floors above us than we did in the lobby.... [W]ithout critical information coming in... it's very difficult to make informed, critical decisions".[4]

The 9/11 Commission carefully analyzed the FDNY radio communications that day, and reported that the battalion chief (Palmer) was able to maintain radio communication that "worked well" with the senior chief in the lobby of the South Tower during the first fifteen minutes of his ascent. A message from a World Trade Center security official that the impact was on the 78th floor was relayed to Palmer, and he decided to try to take his team to that level. Beginning at 9:21 AM, Palmer was no longer able to reach the lobby command post, but his transmissions were recorded and analyzed later. He reached the 78th floor sky lobby, and his team not far behind him were able to free a group of civilians trapped in an elevator at 9:58 AM. Palmer radioed that the area was open to the 79th floor, "well into the impact zone", and reported "numerous civilian fatalities in the area". One minute later, at 9:59 AM, the South Tower collapsed, killing everyone still inside, including Palmer and Bucca.[4]

Michael Daly concluded that Palmer, "an uncommonly brave fire chief who was one of the department's most knowledgeable minds in communications perished never knowing of warnings telephoned by at least two callers less than 30 stories above him."[2]

Although they lost their lives themselves, Palmer and his crew had played an "indispensable role in ensuring calm in the stairwells, assisting the injured and guiding the evacuees on the lower floors."[13]


Palmer's name plate at the National 9/11 Memorial.

After his death, the FDNY's physical fitness award was renamed the Orio Palmer Memorial Fitness Award in his memory after September 11, 2001.[citation needed]

At the National 9/11 Memorial, Palmer is memorialized at the South Pool, on Panel S-17.[14]

In an early-morning ceremony on May 10, 2014, the long-unidentified remains of 1,115 victims were transferred from the city medical examiner's to Ground Zero, where they would be placed in a space in the bedrock 70 feet below ground, as part of the 9/11 Museum. Reaction to the move was split among the families of the 9/11 victims, with some hailing the decision, and others protesting the location as inappropriate. Among the latter was Orio Palmer's brother-in-law, FDNY Lt. James McCaffrey, who demanded a ground-level tomb as a more dignified location. Said McCaffrey, "The decision to put the human remains of the 9/11 dead in this basement is inherently disrespectful and totally offensive." McCaffrey stated that the remains deserves a place of prominence equal to that of the Memorial's trees and pools, and opined that the ceremony was held early in the morning due to opposition to the decision.[15]


  1. ^ a b Flynn, Kevin; Dwyer, Jim (November 9, 2002). "Fire Department Tape Reveals No Awareness of Imminent Doom". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 26, 2008. Retrieved September 13, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Daly, Michael (August 11, 2002). "His brave voice resounds". Daily News. New York. Archived from the original on December 26, 2008. Retrieved September 13, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b Mai Tran (January 3, 2003). "A Week in West for 9/11 Firefighter Families". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on December 26, 2008. Retrieved September 28, 2008. 
  4. ^ a b c Kean, Thomas H.; Lee H. Hamilton (2004). The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 298–304, 547–548. ISBN 978-0-393-06041-6. 
  5. ^ a b "Orio Palmer – Alumni Page". Cardinal Spellman H. S. – Class of 1974. Archived from the original on January 8, 2010. Retrieved February 17, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c Dwyer, Jim; Flynn, Kevin (2006). 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-8050-8032-2. 
  7. ^ Norman, John (2005). Fire Officer's Handbook of Tactics. PennWell Books. p. 341. ISBN 978-1-59370-061-4. 
  8. ^ a b Hoffer, Peter Charles (2006). Seven fires: the urban infernos that reshaped America. PublicAffairs. ISBN 978-1-58648-355-5. 
  9. ^ Palmer, Dana (January 29, 2002). "Orio Joseph Palmer: Letter to a Father". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved February 15, 2011. 
  10. ^ Bill Egbert; Richard Weir; Bill Hutchinson (May 27, 2002). "9-11 film grips N.Y.ERS HBO documentary all too real for heroes". Daily News. New York. Archived from the original on December 26, 2008. Retrieved September 13, 2008. 
  11. ^ a b Bone, James (August 13, 2005). "Voices of courage and terror resurrected by the 9/11 tapes: After four years, families of firefighters have forced release of radio messages". The Times. Archived from the original on December 26, 2008. Retrieved December 26, 2008. 
  12. ^ Dillon, Nancy (March 27, 2006). "CRIES FOR HELP. 9-11 KIN WILL RELIVE TRAGEDY VIA TAPE AS VICTIMS TRAPPED IN TOWERS DELIVER LAST PLEAS". Daily News. New York. Retrieved September 28, 2008.  Mirror
  13. ^ Farmer, John (February 6, 2005). "A September Morning". The Washington Post. Washington, DC. Retrieved February 14, 2011. 
  14. ^ "South Pool: Panel S-17 - Orio Joseph Palmer". National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Archived from the original on July 27, 2013. Retrieved October 29, 2011. 
  15. ^ Stepansky, Joseph; Badia, Erik; McShane, Larry (May 11, 2014). "The Anger Remains". Daily News (New York). p. 4.

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