On Sept. 11, 2001, the Fire Department of New York City (FDNY) was transformed in a matter of minutes and Gregory P. Shea, Andre Kotze, and Paul Brown have taken a hard look at that metamorphosis in an essay in the Harvard Business Review.
The piece examines lessons on leading through hard times, drawn from a five-year research project on the FDNY’s transformation.
Fires around the World Trade Center Plaza, including two of the biggest in New York’s history, took three days to subdue.
It ultimately took three months to extinguish the smoldering fires in the stories upon stories of rubble, rubble which included more than 90 vehicles and spewed out toxins and hampered the search for identifiable remains.
All the while, the FDNY was preparing for the possibility of other attacks, tending to New York City’s ongoing daily needs, and mourning the loss of 343 colleagues, including many officers and several members of top leadership.
In the months and years to come, the organization took a hard look at itself and converted an unspeakable tragedy into an occasion for learning and changing, ultimately transforming from an effective yet dated firefighting force to a modern emergency management and response organization.
Among the interesting facts unveiled in the story, a total of 65 current FDNY firefighters lost a firefighting parent as a result of 9/11. As firefighter James Tancredi, who lost his father Vincent to 9/11-related brain cancer, told the New York Post, “I wish we could have conversations about things that happen on the job. But doing it makes me feel … whole.”
In the last 20 years, the FDNY has moved from a highly effective yet dated firefighting force to a modern emergency management and response organization. In 2015, it was ranked as the top government employer and the 17th overall best employer in the U.S. by Forbes.