Good morning Chairman McCaul, Chairman King, Ranking Members Higgins, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee for Counterterrorism and Intelligence. My name is Joseph Pfeifer and I am the Chief of Counterterrorism for the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today about the FDNY’s concerns and initiatives related to the use of fire as a weapon by those who are determined to bring harm to the United States.
The use of fire for criminal, gang, and terrorist activities, as well as targeting first responders, is not new. Over the past four decades the FDNY has faced hundreds of intentionally set fires that would often target firefighters. However, on March 25, 1990 the unthinkable happened. An arsonist with a plastic container of gasoline spread fuel on the exit stairs of the “Happy Land Night Club” in the Bronx, intentionally killing 87 people, foreshadowing even larger events to come. The attacks of September 11, 2001 are remembered as the first to employ airplanes as weapons of mass destruction, resulting in the loss of almost 3,000 people. However, it was the resultant fires, which brought down Towers 1 and 2 of the World Trade Center in the deadliest attack on American soil. Seven years later, in what is described as a “paradigm shift,” ten terrorist operatives from Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out attacks over three days in Mumbai, India in November 2008, using a mix of automatic weapons, explosives and fire. Each of these attacks is remembered for something other than fire yet, in each, it was the fire that complicated rescue operations and drastically increased the lethality of the attacks.