On September 11, 2001, at 9:38 a.m., the occurrence the Arlington County (VA) Fire Department (ACFD) had long dreaded, prepared for, and hoped would never happen came to pass. We suffered one of the most heinous acts of terrorism ever enacted, right on our home soil. The Pentagon, a symbol of our country’s strength and military heart, was dealt a potentially crippling blow as a Boeing 757 jet airliner, with more than 11,000 gallons of jet fuel, was deliberately flown into the face of the building. It struck with such force that three of the five concentric rings were breached and significantly damaged, and the shock wave was felt throughout the community for miles around. This was an historic event that would test the local emergency response to its limits. For years, we had been trying to prepare for just such an eventuality, all the while hoping it would never happen. Of all the possible scenarios played out by terrorism model experts, this was one of the least predicted forms of assault and potentially one of the most difficult to mitigate.

The Pentagon itself was built to be a fortress, virtually impregnable; it had long been considered a prime target for an enemy attack. Because of its advanced age, the Pentagon has been undergoing some structural upgrades and retrofits, including new blastproof windows made of KevlarT that were, fortuitously, in place on the side of impact. This reinforced section of the building had a significant effect on reducing the extent of damage. Even at that, the area of destruction covered the size of a modern shopping mall and extended 285 feet deep into the structure. The structure itself is physically massive. It covers 29 acres of land and has a floor area of nearly seven million feet. Almost 18 miles of corridors connect the five floors and, even though it is designed to be navigated from any point in the building to the opposite end in just minutes, it is a daunting and confusing maze to the uninitiated. Considering that the first responders were also working in limited to no visibility with a very real threat of becoming disoriented, the task of performing rescue searches was even more perilous.

Geographically, Arlington County is the smallest county in the nation, occupying slightly less than 26 square miles. Our department employs 292 uniformed career firefighters and paramedics and a civilian staff of 13. All the firefighters are certified emergency medical technician-basic, and they have 60 advanced life support paramedics assigned to seven full-time EMS units and one paramedic engine. These personnel staff 10 fire stations located throughout the county and have two battalion chiefs, two EMS supervisors, 10 engines, two rescue squads [which also carry hazardous materials (haz-mat) and technical rescue team (TRT) equipment], one ladder truck, and one ladder tower. Department members work 24-hour shifts with three platoons.

(1,2) Initial engines from the Arlington County (VA) Fire Department (ACFD) arrive on-scene and report to staging. (Photos by Brian Frantz.)

An organization the size of the ACFD was able to successfully mitigate and manage a disaster of such magnitude as the Pentagon attack because of many factors, including the following:

•The ACFD leadership team implemented the incident command system (ICS) early and established scene control quickly and decisively, reducing the chaos.

•The ACFD was able to maintain that control while working with other agencies primarily because of the joint training and disaster preparedness groundwork that had been laid in the Washington Metropolitan region over many years.

•The invaluable interpersonal relationships forged during these years of mass-casualty incident training built trust and confidence among the leadership teams.

•The region’s mutual aid automatically increases response effectiveness and provides for station fill-ins.

(3) The initial command post, established by the ACFD, was located in the south parking area, on the southwest corner of the Pentagon.

•The aggressive fire attack implemented by the ACFD helped to substantially reduce the structure’s debilitation and ward off additional collapse.


Whenever there is a response to an event that involves multiple jurisdictions, the host agency assumes command and implements the ICS. The local jurisdictions of the metropolitan Washington region interact as part of the National Interagency Incident Management System (NIIMS) ICS. This policy effectively eradicates, or at least minimizes, interagency conflict and confusion. In the case of the Pentagon, the ACFD had a physically massive structure that houses critical national security components. It is situated in Arlington County, Virginia, but it falls under the direct control of the Department of Defense (DoD). Its own law enforcement organization, Defense Protective Service (DPS), controls access. The federal fire department, located at Fort Myer, maintains a crash unit at the Pentagon heliport that is staffed by three firefighters during normal business hours. It is left on-site and can be staffed and used the remainder of the time. In addition, the Pentagon was deemed a crime scene and, by virtue of Presidential Decision Directive (PDD)-39, fell under the direct responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The complex relationship among the involved organizations tested the effectiveness of the ICS.

ACFD Training Officer Captain Charles Gibbs arrived at the site within the first three minutes. Battalion Chief Robert Cornwell, who assumed initial incident command responsibilities, arrived immediately thereafter, followed by Assistant Fire Chief of Operations James Schwartz, to whom Cornwell transferred command. Schwartz assigned Cornwell to lead interior suppression efforts and directed Gibbs to establish the River Division.

FBI Special Agent (SA) Chris Combs of the National Capital Response Squad (NCRS), the FBI representative, reported to the command post several minutes later. The working relationship formed between Schwartz and Combs proved to be invaluable in the days ahead. In the opening moments of the incident, ACFD Captain Edward Blunt, serving as EMS 111, established EMS control and designated a triage area. The Emergency Communications Center (ECC) was contacted, and a separate EMS channel was assigned.

The first ACFD unit arrived on-scene within two minutes of the attack; a command presence was established in less than four minutes. Chief Ed Plaugher arrived and chose not to assume command from Chief Schwartz. Instead, he functioned as a buffer between the command structure and the tremendous outside influences and distractions, such as the media frenzy that invariably results after a high-profile, catastrophic event. This proved to be a wise decision. The benefits of establishing and maintaining a single unified incident command presence were immediately evident.

(4,5) Master stream operations.

One of the lessons learned from the Oklahoma City Bombing was that having numerous command posts prevents cohesion and makes it more difficult to marshal resources. As difficult as it was to implement and retain autonomous control at the Pentagon, it proved to be extremely successful as a means of incident management.

Following the March 1995 sarin nerve agent attack in a Tokyo subway that killed 12 commuters and injured hundreds more, the ACFD recognized that its first responders were not trained or equipped to handle similar emergencies. At that time, Chief Plaugher chaired the Washington Metropolitan Area Council of Fire Chiefs Chemical/Biological Committee. In that capacity, he petitioned Council of Governments (COG) Chairman Jack Evans to write a letter to the President of the United States detailing the risk of terrorist attacks and requesting assistance in and funding for planning and preparing for such an occurrence.

The U.S. Public Health Service invited the ACFD to participate in a watershed project aimed at developing and implementing the nation’s first locally based terrorism response unit with haz mat, medical management, and mass-casualty decontamination capability. The ACFD was responsible for developing the first prototype model. This culminated in the creation of the Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS), a concept embraced by more than 100 U.S. metropolitan areas. This was the predecessor to the National Medical Response Team (NMRT), which was a vital component of the Pentagon response.

(6) This photo was taken a split second after the impact area collapsed, generating much smoke, dust, and debris.

In March 2001, the Washington area COG adopted the NIIMS ICS model. This agreement among the regional fire departments and disaster response agencies provided a common understanding of a basic working relationship among local jurisdictions within the context of a significant event. The ACFD’s preparedness level at the Pentagon, therefore, was the result of years of hard work, extensive training, solid leadership, and highly trained and dedicated personnel. This level of effectiveness was also displayed by the neighboring jurisdictions that assisted them.

Nevertheless, establishing and retaining command at the Pentagon was a challenge. Thousands of people and hundreds of apparatus from dozens of jurisdictions responded. This was a uniquely challenging situation for a department of 290-plus personnel; the leadership team ordinarily directs 80 members on a given shift day.

(7) The impact area minutes after the collapse.

To fully maximize the potential of a team effort, you have to be aware of and understand the capabilities and individual tendencies of core members. Just as important, multiple agencies and departments must be attuned to each other’s operational nuances and resources when working in concert. Trust can be extended only when a person or a group feels comfortable in giving up control. The various organizational leaders in the Washington region had been working toward this type of terrorist response for some time, and there was an existing unique depth of familiarity and bonding that allowed this concerted effort to be spearheaded and managed by a single entity—in this case, the ACFD.

The FBI’s Combs, a former New York firefighter, has worked routinely with every Washington Metropolitan Area fire department. He taught classes at the local training academies and met regularly with the fire community leadership. Loudon County Chief Jack Brown, formerly of the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department and a long-time colleague of Chief Schwartz, was assigned as liaison between the ICS and the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team. He had been a team member for many years and was familiar with the personnel and their capabilities. At all levels of interface between the various response units, there was a recognition of, respect for, and acknowledgement of capabilities that streamlined interoperability and enhanced effective task implementation.


Arlington County has mutual-aid agreements with its neighbors to the west and south, the city of Alexandria and Fairfax County, as well as the District of Columbia and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA). It participates in the Northern Virginia Response Agreement (NVRA), which facilitates cross-boundary response. The NVRA provides for automatic dispatch of up to 20 fire and rescue units based on proximity to the incident, regardless of jurisdiction, between Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Fairfax City, Prince William, Loudon, and Fort Belvoir, as well as the MWAA. It has a mutual-aid response agreement with the District of Columbia under the auspices of the regional COG. This agreement does not provide for automatic dispatch; the jurisdiction seeking support must request it. There is also a statewide mutual-aid agreement that enables outlying jurisdictions to provide fill-in support to departments engaged in emergency operations. Therefore, Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue backfilled some Alexandria and Fairfax stations while they were supporting the ACFD. This type of regional coverage ensured that the ACFD suffered no disruption of emergency service to its citizens in the county while it was fully engaged at the Pentagon.

Another stipulation in the response agreement is that a member of the department be in the station being back-filled to act as a navigator. This worked extremely well to ensure that the responses were timely and accurate. Ironically, the department’s call volume abated dramatically for several days following the Pentagon attack. There were responses to two fires on the morning of September 11, which the fill-in units readily handled.

On the morning of September 11, the regional response was almost overwhelming. Alexandria Fire Department (AFD) units were already on pager alert because of the World Trade Center (WTC) attack, and Fairfax Fire & Rescue Department units were watching CNN coverage of the WTC. When Captain Steve McCoy of Engine 101 reported a plane going down in the vicinity of the 14th Street Bridge, all the response units in the county immediately began gearing up.

Because of a dispatch for an apartment fire in the Rosslyn area minutes before the plane hit the Pentagon, numerous units were on the air or in the vicinity, and those units immediately self-dispatched as they anticipated the ECC’s response need. As is usually the case, several other units were also on the air and mobile, either conducting training or out in their first due. They also began heading to the crash site.

As the morning progressed, the ACFD continued to see outlying jurisdictions roll in. Some of the crews adhered to the rules of etiquette and protocol, which demanded a disciplined, orderly reporting to the IC and staging of personnel and equipment. However, some of the units exhibited a brash and unregulated desire to rush in and begin operating as independent companies, much to the detriment of the IC. The influx of personnel and equipment was somewhat difficult to manage and control, but since the command post was already well established and in operation, Com-mand was able to adequately deal with the evolving situation. As the IC was shaping its operational game plan and method of attack, it expended a good deal of energy and resources to encompass the growing response pool. Failure to devote adequate attention to this aspect of the operation could have allowed counterproductive mitigation efforts and hindered operational directives.

As important as the response of suppression and rescue units was the support provided by the federal agencies and the numerous volunteer organizations that provided invaluable relief to the emergency responders. From the outset, the FBI and the Military District of Washington (MDW) worked hand in hand with the ACFD’s IC to ensure cohesive and unified stabilization of the crisis. They enjoy an intimate working relationship with the local federal agencies to this day, in large part because of their working together at the Pentagon. Organizations such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and others were instrumental in bolstering the morale and emotional well-being of the crews and ensuring a more sustained and concerted effort.

Without the mechanisms in place that provided for such a significant regional response during this crisis, the situation most likely would not have been resolved quickly and effectively. It most assuredly would have been more physically and morally debilitating and would have been exponentially more difficult to contain and control.


The first-arriving units to the Pentagon witnessed what looked to be a war scene straight out of Hollywood. The horrific gash in the side of the Pentagon was even more unsettling than you would expect, because this was our nation’s impregnable fortress. Yet, the first-arriving units de-ployed quickly and decisively as they tried to determine where to best direct their initial efforts. Several areas of immediate concern necessitated the establishment of numerous operational divisions remote and isolated from one another. Chief Schwartz assumed incident command 10 minutes after impact and established the Fire Suppression Branch to include River Division, South Parking Division, and A-E Division. The original divisions were not given their alphabetical designations (A, B, C, D) because Command felt that the unusual layout of the structure and the response by units unfamiliar with the building would make orienting to the geographic regions difficult and confusing. An EMS branch consisting of triage, treatment, and transportation was also established.

Initial suppression efforts were hindered by the need to evacuate the operational area because of a partial collapse of the impact area and of reports that another hijacked plane may be coming in. Having watched the news coverage depicting two planes attacking the WTC, there was a heightened sense of awareness that a second attack might be made. Command took no chances.

Four site evacuations were ordered in the first 24 hours:

  • The first (at 0955 hours) was because of structural concerns.
  • Chief Schwartz called the second evacuation at 1015 hours; the “All clear” was given at 1038 hours, after the plane crash was reported in Pennsylvania. SA Combs had first received notification of this threat by radio from the FBI Washington Field Office (WFO), which was in direct contact with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
  • The third one was around 1400 hours on September 11.
  • The last one was at 1000 hours on September 12.

These subsequent evacuations were necessary only because the FBI presence at the command post had been disrupted. Around noon, Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) Robert Blecksmith arrived on-scene and assumed the role of the FBI on-scene commander.

Recognizing SA Combs’ exceptional working relationship with Chief Schwartz and other key leaders of the response group, Blecksmith retained Combs as an advisor. Blecksmith then relocated the FBI’s Unified Law Enforcement Command Center to the Virginia State Police Barracks, adjacent to the Navy Annex and overlooking the Pentagon. This removed the FBI presence from the command post, delaying Command’s being able to confirm any threats.

When the control tower at Reagan National Airport notified the ECC of “inbound unidentified aircraft,” the ECC informed the IC. Later, both of these planes were determined to be “friendly,” but there was no way to confirm this initially. The IC was forced to order evacuations both times.

Keep in mind that amid these reports of additional threats of aircraft, there were also rumors of car bombings at the Capitol, an attack on the White House, the collapse (later confirmed) of the WTC, terrorist acts in Chicago, and all sorts of disturbing and unsettling news. Had the FBI maintained its presence at the command post, the lapse in nullifying the threat would have been avoided. This underscored the importance of the unified command. These delays were frustrating and concerned the crews whose efforts were disrupted. But, the stage had been set. Once the crews were able to proceed, they continued an aggressive, sustained attack of the heavy fire in and around the impact area.


Truck 105 was the first responding unit on-scene; it positioned on the periphery of the south parking lot. Engine 105 and Rescue 109 joined it almost immediately; each company was staffed with three-member crews. All three units entered the stairwell in corridor 3, to the right of the impact area, and began assessing conditions on all five floors and directing personnel out of the building to safety. Engine and Truck 105 concentrated their efforts on the first and second floors and found some personnel in the hallways near the exit stairs who were indicating which offices they knew to be occupied. The officer from Rescue 109 proceeded up the stairs to assess conditions from floors 3, 4, and 5. The third floor was completely clear of any smoke and did not seem affected at all. The fourth and fifth floors had heavy smoke conditions, and several military personnel were present on the fourth floor indicating a conference room down the hall, in which a group meeting reportedly was being conducted, yet nobody had exited. They were trying to cover their mouths as best as possible against the smoke but were otherwise ambulatory, so the rescue officer directed them out of the building and went back down to retrieve his crew.

They conducted a primary search of the fifth floor from the entry corridor down to the bend in the hallway, which indicated the next wedge section. They stayed to the outside wall so as to avoid the maze of inner corridors that led into the inner rings as they knocked on office doors and called out for anyone who may have been trapped or injured. After quickly canvassing the area and finding no victims, they searched the fourth floor all the way down the hall past the bend until they encountered the periphery of the impact area, again finding no one. Here they met a tangle of debris and partial collapse and a rising heat condition, which hindered further progress. By this time, about 10 to 15 minutes had elapsed, and they returned to the stairwell of corridor 3 and were conferring with Battalion Chief Cornwell as additional units began entering the stairwell and deploying.

At that time, an evacuation order was issued because of reports of incoming aircraft. All the companies were forced to exit the structure. Once the “All clear” was given, it was determined that all viable rescues had been made from that interior corridor. The crews were reallocated to the suppression divisions. The primary searches that were made in those initial minutes served more to indicate that those victims that were able to self-evacuate had already done so and that anybody still in the impact area was in a hostile environment that was not conducive to survivability. Subsequent searches were made later in the day, as crews conducted fire attack, but no other victims were encountered.

As the search and rescue operation was being carried out, Engine 107 had positioned on the side of impact and had initiated master stream operations. While members were setting up and deploying the water stream, a female victim emerged from the wreckage; they assisted her to the medic units standing by. She was suffering from smoke inhalation and severe burns to a large portion of her body. By this time, most of the people that could have been removed from the impact area had been; as the fire began to spread, it limited the ability of the rescue crews to make further entry.


Meanwhile, concurrent with entry operations, EMS 111 and Medics 102, 104, 106, and 109 were setting up initial triage along Washington Boulevard and coordinating with the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) to provide traffic control and create a transport staging corridor to handle the burn victims. EMS 111 initiated EMS control, called for 20 additional medic units and two buses, and requested that EMS 112 respond to this location and function as the triage officer. EMS 111 also notified the local hospitals to prepare for victims who would be transported. By 0950 hours, ECC told EMS 111 that the hospitals were ready to receive as many victims as necessary. EMS 111 assigned Reserve Medics 111 and 112 to report to the inner core to assist with the A-E Division. All remaining medic units were staged in the south parking area and brought to the transport corridor as needed. Assistant Chief John White arrived at 0955 hours and assumed command of the EMS Branch.

The predominant injuries of those treated and transported were smoke inhalation and burns. Becauseof the KevlarT windows’ absorption of the force of impact, there was not very much glass debris to generate laceration-type injuries. Some people were treated for cuts and contusions, but the burning jet fuel and the severity of the impact created a fairly rigid demarcation line between “walking wounded” and fatalities as well as limited the number of savable victims. Of the scores of people rescued, the majority were out within the first several minutes.


At the same time, Battalion Chief Dale Smith had entered the inner core by way of the A-E Drive and was committed to that position prior to the evacuation order. He was accompanied by District of Columbia Fire Department (DCFD) Truck 4. They had begun assessing conditions from the interior of the Pentagon. Since they were committed at the time of the evacuation order and numerous military and civilian personnel were present, they had no opportunity to evacuate. They stayed in place. After the “All clear” was given, numerous ACFD units reported to the A-E Division to assist in fire suppression efforts.

The initial attack lines were stretched through corridor 4, and suppression efforts were initiated from the alleyway between the B-ring and C-ring. The water supply from the standpipe connection was inadequate; another water supply was sought. The fact that all operational units were being supplied from the same main and numerous master streams were in use served to all but eliminate any effective water supply to the companies operating in the inner core. A standpipe connection made from another location also was found lacking. This supply line was connected from the D-ring corridor and still was found to be inadequate. At that time E109 resolved to provide a dedicated water supply from an independent source. They used a hydrant located at S. Fern Street about 1,400 feet away and supplied a pumper at the entrance to A-E Drive, which used another supply line of about 800 feet to provide a serviceable water source for suppression operations. A master stream and several 13/4-inch attack lines were established and maintained. (Although this served to supply the inner core, it presented a problem of protecting the hoseline from vehicle traffic using the A-E Drive. Finally, after several sections of four-inch hose had been damaged, a series of ramps was built to protect the supply line and still allow vehicles to travel through.)

The bulk of the fire was knocked down, and primary efforts were directed at preventing the fire from extending into the B-ring. Because of the significant amount of jet fuel that had been ignited, suppression efforts were long and sustained and taxed the crews extensively. The efforts of the crews in the A-E Division were instrumental in containing the fire and warding off collateral fire damage into the unaffected areas of the A- and B-rings.


Situated almost directly in front of the impact site, Captain Gibbs began formulating the plan of attack. Initial operations included using the crash trucks that had arrived from the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to start applying a foam blanket on the burning jet fuel. A complication that arose from this attack was that there was no opportunity for the foam to create a blanket seal because of the extensive debris that was saturated with jet fuel. The benefit derived from this operation was that it afforded crews working in that vicinity the ability to gain entry into the area around the impact site and look for victims. This was the area in which E107 located the burn victim and assisted her from the structure. While no specific measurement of the amount of foam used during this phase was recorded, it was considerable. The foam turrets were in use for several hours during that first day in an attempt to stem the raging fire load unleashed from the fully fueled aircraft.

Several portable monitors were set up to augment this effort. This method of attack was continued until the damaged section of the building partially collapsed, at which time Gibbs ordered an evacuation of the immediate area. This was soon followed by the full site evacuation by Command. Once the “All clear” was given, Gibbs began marshaling his resources and preparing an attack plan. At this time, Chief Cornwell was reassigned to the River Division, which became the Operations Section.

The EMS and Suppression branches were absorbed into this new designation. The officer from ACFD Rescue 109 was sent into the impact area, with an AFD engine company as support, to assess the fire load and look for potential hoseline advancement avenues that would allow for direct suppression efforts. After entering the point of impact and going to the left, toward corridor 5, the rescue officer determined that access was inadequate for initiating an attack from this area. The collapse debris became increasingly difficult to navigate around and over, and it would prove virtually impossible to advance hoselines. Heavy fire was beginning to show on several floors between the impact area and corridor 5. It was determined that it would not prove beneficial to try and attack the fire from the crash area.

Enhanced crews of 20 to 30 personnel were sent in to systematically extinguish the rings from corridor 5 back toward the crash site. Working from the E-ring, then the D-ring, and finally the C-ring, crews worked on several levels to effect extinguishment. This approach proved to be a physically exhausting, protracted endeavor because of the deep-seated pockets of fuel and burning debris. Later in the morning, as additional units arrived, several more enhanced companies relieved the crews. This method of attack was effective; the majority of the fire was under control before nightfall. Portable monitors and ladder pipes were used throughout the night to maintain control, as the deep-seated fires continued to smolder.


As the operation progressed and headway was being made, it became evident that the fire on the roof was not going to be extinguished or contained without substantial effort. Captain John Snider of the ACFD was assigned to join DCFD Truck 10 in an attempt to get a handle on the situation. The roof’s construction was the cause of the problem. The roof appeared to be a typical slate roof over timber slats. However, on making entry into the roof, personnel found that under the timber slats were furring strips of wood, spaced every two feet or so, running from the ridge down toward the face wall. This wooden assembly was erected over a concrete roof deck, which was six inches thick. There was also a sublayer of tar-and-horsehair insulation, which was melting and igniting.

The furring strips created a 6-inch 2 8-inch void space, which was contributing to fire spread and making extinguishment difficult. An inspection hole bored into the concrete showed it to be about six inches thick. Breaching it would be labor-intensive. Since the actual roof of the Pentagon was the concrete sub roof, it was determined that the roof fire posed no real concern for the companies operating below inside the corridors. The fire was threatening to impinge on a cluster of fresh-air intakes for the bunker in which Pentagon command staff were secured many levels belowground. The fire also threatened a cluster of communications antennae crucial to operational effectiveness. These air intakes and antennae were deemed crucial to the ability not only of the Command staff to stay secure in their underground bunker but also for the Pentagon to be able to maintain uplinks with its worldwide intelligence-gathering resources. If the communications were compromised, it would effectively cripple the installation’s ability to react to the ongoing threat.

Since neither of these exposures could tolerate impingement, crews made a trench cut to interrupt the fire spread. Crews worked feverishly to contain and control the advancing fire and were successful in delaying it sufficiently on the first day so they could gain some breathing room. All roof operations were suspended at 2000 hours, to safeguard the personnel. Efforts were redoubled the next day; the fire on the roof was eventually declared under control.


After the fire was under control, resources were directed at recovering victims. The task of recovery fell to the FBI and a complement of military personnel. However, because of the significant number of support columns destroyed and damaged in the impact, it was feared that structural collapse was inevitable if not imminent. The ACFD turned to its resident experts, the TRT, to resolve the situation. For incidents of any magnitude, the team uses a joint effort between the ACFD and AFD TRTs. This crisis required every last bit of effort and expertise from both departments. Command had recognized early in the incident that it would need substantial support at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) level. The IC called for the mobilization of the Fairfax and Montgomery County USAR teams and two task forces from the NMRT. This request was predicated on the region’s mutual-aid agreement and the local jurisdictions’ experience in working with each other. Chief Plaugher directed Chief Schwartz to increase the number of requested teams to four. The additional teams were from Virginia Beach and Tennessee. Because of the protracted nature of the response, a team from New Mexico was also deployed several days later, as was the local MDW TRT stationed at Fort Belvoir. Normally, the request to solicit federal support would go through state channels; however, because FEMA representatives were already at the Pentagon, FEMA approved the request and notified the State EOC.

The USAR teams began working around the clock in 12-hour shifts for the next eight days to shore up and stabilize the precarious condition of the building. After several days, the FEMA schedule of 12 hours on and 24 hours off was implemented, but many of the local team members found that to be more disruptive to their recovery because of their having to adapt from a day-oriented to a night-oriented work shift. The ACFD/AFD team had never undertaken an operation of this scope; therefore, the guidance and assistance of the internationally experienced Fairfax and Montgomery County USAR teams were invaluable. They provided insight in the management and planning stages and helped orient the initial efforts. This close working relationship gave both components an opportunity to witness the high level of competence of the other and forged a tight, cohesive bond that will pay dividends in future undertakings.

While the USAR teams worked on a rotational basis to assist with the stabilization efforts, the ACFD/AFD team stayed the course and maintained a working presence throughout the entire process. When the stabilization was completed and the building was turned over to the FBI, the TRT stood justifiably proud of one of the largest shoring operations ever undertaken in an emergency incident. The ability of all the contributing teams to work together and learn from one another only served to highlight the latent strength this region possesses as a result of its mutual-aid and interagency working relationships.


The psychological impact of a traumatic and horrific event varies from one person to another. Everyone’s past experiences, tolerances, and personal character traits serve to shape and define how one reacts to catastrophe. The efforts of the Arlington County Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in the hours and weeks that followed the Pentagon attack were instrumental in defusing the negative impacts. This type of effective policy implementation was the result of years of preparation and vision by a dedicated core of professionals who proactively sought to safeguard the employees they served.

In 1999, Dodie Gill, the director of the Employee Assistance Program, established a rapport and a working relationship with the ACFD and began enhancing the capabilities of the department’s Peer Support Group. This was achieved through advanced critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) training for the peers, conducting monthly mock debriefings, holding ongoing meetings with fire administration managers, and a whole host of things introduced to prepare the ACFD for such an event as the Pentagon.

From the first minutes of the incident, when the EAP staff walked several blocks from their office to Station 1 and began mobilizing the CIS management team as well as visiting members rehabbing in a gym, they sent a message that they were here for the duration. Gill was at the Pentagon within the first three hours and provided initial support to anxious family members by cell phone; she coordinated massage therapists to give free massages. She also worked with the newly hired risk manager for workers’ compensation insurance to set aside the usual red tape when processing claims.

The ACFD’s encouraging its members to use EAP services long before 9-11 and the EAP staff’s extensive follow-up for the weeks and months after the event significantly reduced the debilitating effects of this disaster within the department. Some members have availed themselves of the program more so than others, but all have benefited. In the aftermath of the Pentagon attack, they have grown as a department in knowing that together they are stronger than any tragedy they face.


When reviewing the actions and tactics implemented during this incident there are several aspects to be considered. There was a “traditional” fire department response to a plane crash and significant structure fire with accompanying building collapse as well as a multijurisdictional, multiagency mitigation of a terrorist incident. Any time an event of this magnitude occurs, you identify areas that worked well beyond expectations as well as some in need of improvement.

First arriving units were faced with numerous issues upon arrival.

•Size-up. Initial size-up included a significant breach of the structure with multiple areas of burning jet fuel and debris with potential for multiple rescues as victims were self-evacuating to meet incoming units. The threat of additional aircraft was very valid and affected the deployment of companies to begin suppression and rescue operations. Initially, the use of master streams was effective in providing some control of fire spread and giving the IC the opportunity to develop an offensive attack.

•Assessment. The search and rescue conducted by the first-arriving companies and the deployment of units into the inner core provided some idea of the extent of the fire load. It was determined that the fifth corridor would provide the optimum staging area to initiate aggressive interior attacks while the inner core units would position to prevent the fire from extending into unaffected areas. At the same time, the extensive damage and rubble significantly impeded effective hoseline deployment and implementation of solid tactical operations.

•Attack. This was a major firefight that fully taxed the resources of several jurisdictions. The intensity and ferocity of the blaze quickly fatigued the firefighters, but because of the volume of fire did not allow much opportunity for rehab. Even though units continued to pour in steadily throughout the morning, only so many hoses could be supplied and operated at any given time. It necessitated a disciplined, coordinated blitz by several enhanced suppression companies working in concert along adjacent rings and on multiple floors. Because of the destruction caused by the plane, there were significant breaches between the rings that provided the potential for units to push the fire into one another if they were not careful. As the day wore on and a fresh contingent of personnel arrived, a rotation system developed that allowed some relief.

•Water supply. With so many units vying to initiate suppression efforts at the same time, it was imperative that alternate water supplies be established. The crew of E109 was able to provide a dedicated supply source to the inner core, which tremendously increased operational effectiveness. On the River Division/ Op-erations Division side, it became a matter of juggling water between those hoselines and master streams that were in use at any given time. The IC closely monitored the progress of the attack and established priorities accordingly to achieve this objective. It is important to note that while taxed to its limits, the water supply was never inadequate to support the IC’s operational directives.

•Roof operations. As the operation was progressing, the roof fire began to gain prominence in the overall mitigation strategy. While the actual burning off of the roof would not have affected the interior operations below, because of the concrete subroof, it was creating an exposure hazard for the fresh air intakes that supplied the Pentagon Command staff bunker, buried below, as well as threatening to incapacitate the communications antennae located on the roof. These antennae were crucial to the ongoing capability of the Pentagon to maintain uplinks with its myriad of sources worldwide. The difficulty lay in the void space that existed between the slate roof and the concrete roof, which was promoting fire spread. A trench cut was created to try and halt the fire spread, but it was not fully effective in stopping the fire. The trench cut proved to be a labor-intensive operation that exhausted the units working on the roof and significantly decreased their safety margin because of fatigue. While the fire spread did slow down, crews still had to work feverishly for two full days before the roof was deemed under control.

Some of the positives that can be carried away from this response and built on in the future include the following:

•ICS and unified command. Having a centralized and cohesive command structure provided invaluable stability and streamlining of effort. This should be emulated in all future joint-agency operations. Interoperability training and preplanning contributed significantly to this capability and underscored the invaluable benefit of interpersonal relationships among peers and agency representatives.

•Mutual aid and outside support. Tapping into the available resources of other departments and agencies and the community provided a dramatic increase in response effectiveness and incident management. A combined resource allocation proved to be extremely useful and sufficient for sustained operations.

The ACPD provided support from the onset including traffic and crowd control and a sniper overwatch to protect crews on-site.

•Employee assistance program. The ongoing benefit of having an established crisis intervention program cannot truly be measured. Productivity and recovery are enhanced, and the participating members realize long-term dividends. This carries over to the family members as well.

•Training, joint training, and preparedness plans. Trying to initiate operations on this scale without prior planning or training would yield negative results. All parties involved knew their roles and executed them with a commitment to professionalism and efficiency.

•Some of the lessons learned from this event that represent areas in which improvements will be made include the following:

•Self-dispatching. Organizations, response units, and individuals proceeding on their own initiative to the incident site, without the knowledge and permission of the host jurisdiction and the IC, complicate the incident, increase risks for operating crews, and make it more difficult to maintain accountability. Adhering to disciplined response protocols and staging assignments facilitates the IC’s controlling and containing the incident.

•Fixed and mobile command facilities. Arlington County does not have a facility specifically designed for or equipped to support the emergency management functions stipulated in the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP). Notification and recall capabilities of the Emergency Communications Center (ECC) were constrained, and there were no protected lines for outside calls when 9-1-1 became saturated. The ACFD does not have a mobile command vehicle and relied on vehicles belonging to other organizations to provide the necessary capabilities to effectively establish a command post. The ACPD needs to replace or extensively modernize its command vehicle.

•Communications. Virtually every aspect of communications was problematic, from initial notification to tactical operations. Cellular phones were of little use during the first hours, and cellular priority access service (CPAS) is not available to emergency responders. Radio channels were initially oversaturated, and interoperability issues among jurisdictions persist. Pagers proved to be the most reliable and consistent means of notification, but most firefighters were not issued a pager. The EOC does not have an installed radio capacity and relies on portable radios coincidentally assigned to staff members working in the EOC.

•Logistics. Arlington County, like most jurisdictions, did not have a sufficient stockpile of items to support long-term operations. There were no mechanisms in place to provide for restocking; there was no centralized control center. There were insufficient amounts of critical demand items such as batteries and breathing apparatus. The need for a larger response capability of both the TRT and haz-mat teams was also identified.

RUDY EVERSBURG is a 10-year veteran of the Arlington County (VA) Fire Department and is a Virginia state-level specialist of the haz-mat team. He was riding as acting officer on Rescue Squad 109 on September 11, 2001, and was the third-arriving unit to the Pentagon. Prior to joining the fire service, he served for 11 years in the United States Army as a noncommissioned officer in the Combat Engineers.

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