Maryland Firefighters Share 9/11 Memories

The Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department played a role that day in support of our neighboring jurisdictions while continuing to protect our own county.

Later I had the opportunity to testify before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, in Washington, D.C., chaired by Senator Susan Collins of Maine.  We discussed the critical needs of the fire and EMS service including staffing and equipment.  This was part of the process that lead to the initial SAFER Act funding and the continued FIRE act funding for Department’s across the nation.

Mark E. Brady

September 11, 2001: Public Information Officer – PGFD

September 11, 2011: Manager – Public Relations and Chief Spokesperson - PGFD

September 11, 2001, was to be another day of pomp and circumstance for the Department.  The County Council would confirm another Fire Chief. To lead our combination Fire/EMS Department.  The event is always a proud day for the new chief, family, friends and members of the Department.   I serve the Department as one of two Public Information Officers (PIO) and I was responsible for broadcasting a Press Release about the Fire Chief’s confirmation.  I was sitting in front of a computer at home preparing the press release announcing the appointment of Ronald D. Blackwell as the County’s Fire Chief.  My wife had just dropped off our children at school and was on the way home when she heard on the radio that a “small” plane had hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center.  I turned on the television and watched live coverage of one of the towers burning.  My wife arrived home very soon after that and we both watched as the second plane hit the other tower.  We both looked at each other in a state of shock and knew that we were being attacked.  I called Chief Blackwell on the cell phone to ensure he knew what was occurring.  He instructed me to report to the County Administration Building (CAB) in Upper Marlboro, the site where he was to be confirmed.  Chief Blackwell was going to convene a meeting at the CAB to discuss the events occurring in New York.

Leaving my wife at home that day was one of the hardest things I have ever done as an employee of the Fire/EMS Department.  I have left home and family countless times to report to duty for emergency incidents and weather events but this time it was different.  My wife assured me that she was ok and encouraged me to go and do my job.  She was not panicked, had her contingency plans made and was insistent that I leave.  She was going back to school and pick up our children.  Her mother called to say she was coming to our house and planned to spend the day with the family.  This time was the most difficult to leave my home and family.  Later in the day, hundreds of personnel were to do the same thing.  I remained in contact with my family throughout the course of the day.

While I was driving to the CAB a plane hit the Pentagon.  I parked on the upper level of the parking garage and could see the rising column of thick black smoke miles away; it was smoke from the Pentagon.  Once inside the CAB I met other members of the Fire/EMS Department in Council Chambers, we did not have access to a TV and were learning of developments from phone calls.  My wife called and told me that one of the Towers had collapsed.  I could not comprehend what she was telling me and had her describe what she was seeing on the TV.  I still could not imagine what she was describing until I saw the image throughout the rest of the day replayed on TV. 

I remember vividly meeting with Ron Siarnicki who was scheduled to testify on behalf of Ron Blackwell before the council.  Siarnicki was Fire Chief in Prince George’s County when he accepted apposition of Executive Director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF).  Ron Blackwell had served as a Deputy under Chief Siarnicki and was replacing him as Chief.  While we were aware of the attacks, the World Trade Center collapse had not yet occurred, neither one of us knew what the next hours would mean for Ron Siarnicki and the NFFF.  For Chief Siarnicki the following days formed the foundation for his tenure as the Director of the NFFF.  He gathered a group of firefighters and went to New York to help and provide assistance to the FDNY and surviving family members of fallen firefighters.  What was once a one weekend a year memorial foundation has flourished under Siarnicki's leadership and is now a vital component of the fire service advocacy for firefighter safety and survival as well as providing services for surviving family members.  The number of firefighters suffering a line of duty death has now started to decrease, in my opinion, as a direct result of Ron Siarnicki and the NFFF, however, that's another story in itself.