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.

But we operated without a hitch and followed verbal direction from the Pentagon Command Post as received. With our member's safety paramount, it should be noted that during interior operations - approximately 6 hours in duration - we incurred only one slight injury to a member of our team, that being eye irritation. 

Without a doubt, in my previous 27 years, operating at THE PENTAGON on 9/11 was the most fulfilling - and challenging -- incident ever!

For all the wrong reasons a group of volunteer firefighters from Prince George's County were called upon to respond after our Nation's worst attack ever on home soil. And as a testament to their sense of Honor and Duty, they stepped up and put forth their best effort and did their job as proudly and honorably as humanly possible given the enormity and historical implications of the situation.

I will never be more proud.

Robert H. McCoy, Jr.

September 11, 2001:   Battalion Chief 1 for Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department

September 11, 2011:   Fire Chief of York Area United Fire and Rescue

On September 11, 2001, I was attending a hearing at the Fire Services Building in Landover Hills.  The meeting was to start at 0900 and I arrived at approximately 0850 to find personnel watching the North Tower of the World Trade Center burning.  There was speculation as to the size of the plane and the reason for the crash and we continued to watch until we started the hearing.  As we were preparing to turn the TV off, everyone in the room witnessed the South Tower hit by the commercial airplane ending speculation; we knew the United States was being attacked.  We commenced the hearing and although it was on my mind, it was still a distant issue and one that FDNY would handle.

At approximately 0940, all pagers in the room were alerted that another plan had hit the Pentagon.  The hearing was stopped and all Battalion Chiefs were ordered back to their Battalion.  Leaving the building, there was a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety over what had transpired.  There were many thoughts going through my head of being attacked, how many more planes, what additional targets are at risk.  As I left the Fire Services Building, I came to the top of Webster Street and my first vision was a clear view of the smoke column from the Pentagon.  At that point, I realized it was not just a New York issue; I understood the Capital region was hit and more attacks could be coming.  I also realized that the resources of the Northern Virginia and District of Columbia Fire Departments were committed to the Pentagon, and we would be utilized if the incident escalated or additional attacks were encountered. 

I returned to the Center of my Battalion at Station 8 and by then was notified of a complete Departmental recall.  Personnel were contacted and told to report to their stations as soon as possible.  We were receiving numerous reports that the amount of hijacked planes was unknown and one may be heading towards the White House and or Capitol.  With the help of my officers we assigned personnel to apparatus and started to address resource needs, if we were to be deployed.  I assigned Captain Gallagher to serve as my aide and we went to each station in the Battalion to ensure all stations were prepared.  As the Battalion Chief, I could see the anger in personnel as well as concern for what they may be in for as well as their families.  Many of the firefighters, including myself, were calling family members and making sure everyone was together, staying away from the District, pulling kids out of schools, etc.

The recall of personnel, the first in the Department’s history, was very successful in my opinion.  Although there was sadness and concern for the emergency workers involved at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there was a great deal of pride in the career and volunteer members of Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department who reported to their stations immediately and prepared to respond to an unknown danger.  At some stations we had more personnel than we had riding positions, which required the movement of some apparatus to maximize our resources.  During the day, numerous units were alerted to and operated at the Pentagon to assist our partners in the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments.