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.

In 2005, I served as the Executive Officer for Fire Chief Lawrence Sedgwick and had the honor of recognizing all personnel who operated at the Pentagon with Certificates and 911 Uniforms Bars.  I also had the privilege of working with the Fire Chief’s Committee of the Council of Governments from 2005-2008 in addressing interoperability issues within the region, which many were identified as a result of 9/11.

Victor Weatherford

September 11, 2001:   Branchville Volunteer Firefighter and Past-President

September 11, 2011:   Past-President, Life Member and retired firefighter as of 9/11/11

On September 11, 2001 I was in my office in Beltsville and I received a call from my wife stating an airplane had hit the World Trade Center- as with most people I took it with a grain of salt and assumed it was a small private aircraft- I hung up and went on with my work.  Within a half hour I received another call saying another plane had hit the other tower, at this point I knew something big was happening. As my coworkers and I turned on the TV in the conference room the video of the second plane hitting the tower was playing. It was shortly after that when we started to hear of the Pentagon being hit and then the message on the bottom of the TV screen requesting all firefighters from all areas surrounding DC, career and volunteer, report to their stations for assignment.

As I arrived at the station Engine 113 had just left to be transferred to DC and Engine 11 was also out on a transfer within the county.  Now we were getting calls over the red phone asking for additional crews and apparatus to respond to other buildings in DC that had been attacked. At one point there was speculation that a plane had hit the Capital, the State Department had been hit, and there was another plane heading towards the White House. John Gardiner, Thomas Ferriera, and I started to gather spare equipment, dropping hose from the hose tower, and actually entertained putting the old Open Cab in service if necessary. As it turned out this was not necessary as all of the additional attacks were false.

As the day moved on we were staying in touch with our crew at the Pentagon and we learned that after five hours of the Pentagon burning fire department crews were allowed to start emergency operations and E-113 was assigned to provide water supply for all interior attacks, setting up in the courtyard next to a café ironically named the “Ground Zero Café” long before 9/11. Because Engine 113 was in the courtyard, it was staying for the duration of this operation.

Mike Hughes was the ranking officer from Branchville at the Pentagon and at 7PM he called the station looking for a relief crew. John Gardiner and I headed to the fire ground. Upon arriving, we met our crew at the entrance to the tunnel leading to the courtyard and they looked drained both physically and mentally. John and I report to the incident commander on side one- directly in front of the impact zone. It wasn’t until this point that the magnitude of the situation set in. See that gaping hole in the side of the most powerful building in the world was humbling to say the least.

As we worked our way into the courtyard, John took over pump operations first and I was assigned to take Military folks into certain areas away from the collapse zone for them to collect their belongings from offices. This went on for a while and then we were requested to set up a “collection area” in the courtyard- this, as it turned out, was a nice way to say set up a makeshift morgue.  After that, we alternated between pump operation and taking military personnel into the pentagon we were assigned to an Engine company from DC to do an interior attack to knock down the rekindle that had taken place on the top floor.  As we went inside there were quite a few scenes that stick with me today- from the collapsed two or three foot thick walls, to the exit point of the nose cone of the airplane between the “C” and “D” rings between corridors 5 & 6, the front landing gear that was at rest in the area between the “C” and “D” rings, to the handful of burnt bodies we came across inside the impact area- it was all a scene of mass destruction.

John and I stayed on site providing water supply and other duties until 9:30 AM the next day- At this point we too we drained.