Woodsboro Volunteer Fire Company's 1955 B-85 open cab Mack ladder truck.
A 1955 B-85 open cab Mack ladder truck was small enough to get through the Pentagon tunnels.
When their tones sounded on September 12, 2001, volunteers at a Maryland fire company learned they were being dispatched to a call like no other -- mutual aid to Virginia to assist at the Pentagon.
Woodsboro Vol. Fire Chief Micky Fyock said his company had something unique, a 1955 B-85 open cab Mack ladder truck. It was small enough to get through the Pentagon tunnels. "We had the little truck that could."
"All we were worried about is getting down there, and getting the job done," Fyock said. "I told the crew that's all that mattered. I didn't care if we had to tow it back or bring it back in pieces.. As long as it did what it was called for..."
Robert Compton, the driver, said it was a trip down I-270 he isn't going to forget. "I think we only saw one tractor-trailer the whole time. The interstate was empty...I think the truck maxed out at 68, and that was going down hill."
As they approached Washington, they could see an orange glow and dark smoke. They would later learn that it was the lights from the emergency vehicles, not fire, that caused the hue.
"I warned the guys going in that there would likely be high security, and not to do something that could get us shot," Fyock said, adding that his crew already understood the magnitude of the call.
When they arrived, however, they found just the opposite. After what felt like an eternity, an older man pointed them in right direction.
Firefighter Michael Cornell said on the trip down he tried to prepare himself for the task ahead. At 18, he knew he was going on the biggest mission of his life. But, it would take days after his return to really sink in.
He said he was impressed when a military officer approached and asked them: "How can I help you to help me."
Compton steered the antique truck into the tunnel. Clearance was especially tight at places where firefighters had placed planks for hoses. When they emerged into the courtyard, an abandoned military van blocked them from setting up close to the building.
But, that obstacle also was handled quickly. "Bob crawled underneath it, and disabled the transmission. We pushed it out of our way," said Firefighter Steve Devilbiss.
The reaction of other fire crews to the little truck was priceless. "A few came over laughing, and said what is this?" Devilbiss said.
Through the night, the crew took turns on the 65-foot ladder, directing a water screen. Their mission was to stop the fire from spreading to other areas. They were the last defense.
Devilbiss said he remembers how quiet the operation was as people went about doing their jobs. Only radio traffic broke the silence. "They laid out body bags...Some laid down on them to try to get a nap."
Fyock said as he looked at the damaged Pentagon lit up by the flashing lights, it hit him that his rural, volunteer fire company was playing a historic role. "We were called by these career people because they needed our little truck. We were in the biggest fire operation..."
The volunteers took pictures of their truck and the protective water curtain. But, the camera was confiscated. Although someone promised they'd get it back, they didn't.
Cornell said he still remembers the odors.
As dawn broke, the firefighters observed that a small city had been erected on the grounds outside the Pentagon. More and more people started arriving. Some were in tears, some simply stared in disbelief..
"I sat with one man for a while," the chief said. "He pointed to where the plane had hit the building. He said he worked there, but he had a dentist appointment. His co-workers all died."
Command released the volunteers and their little truck in mid-morning. A Virginia fire officer shook their hands, and thanked them.
The Woodsboro volunteers say they came in during the night under the cover of darkness, and performed a vital function. But their efforts have never been recognized.
"We do have a letter from President Bush, thanking us for our work at the Pentagon. It mentions each and every one of us," the chief said "But we've never been included in any events or functions like other departments. You won't find Woodsboro's patch on any of the shirts made up to recognize the fire companies that were there that day."
Nonetheless, the crew says they were proud to have been part of the operation, and believe they made a good showing for volunteers across the country.
"This is our company's legacy," Chief Fyock said. "We had the little truck that could and did."