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Note: This is the conclusion of a 2-part posting. Read Part One HERE before continuing with this entry.
Remembering that day, September 11th…
No day in modern history holds as much pain for the American people as September 11th. Granted, December 7, 1941 is as FDR proclaimed a date that will live in infamy! But 9/11, well that is our Pearl Harbor and that is the day we will always remember and those of us who know what happened that day and are part of the fraternity of firefighters who charge up those stairwells will forever carry that scare. The FDNY is one of the best fire departments in the world and I was fortunate to know a couple of those guys who put on their gear that day for the last time. Terry Hatton for one was a real character; I met Terry when he was a firefighter at Rescue 2 in Brooklyn in 1988. His legacy and work in the FDNY was impressive and will live on……… Thank God for people like that…
Back to my recollections, I left off at the barbershop where my twins and I had just witnessed the first collapse and all I wanted to do was get home because I knew that I was going to work that day. I settled with the girls and guys who cut our hair that day and headed home, all the time keeping a wary eye on the sky. Got the boys home and my wife had gone and gotten my daughter so the entire family was at home… However, nothing, the recall never happened so I was stuck watching all the activity in New York and Arlington. I went to bed early because I felt that the next day might be interesting.
September 12th was a carbon copy of September 11th and I headed in to work early, earlier than my usual 0630 I think I actually got in to work at 0600 and relieved the B shifters. Looked up at our staffing and was thinking about what the day would be like. Working at Fire Station 23 in West Annandale I felt like we would be well out of the activity that day and really I was Ok with that, with the bulk of the fires taken care of I felt that any work at the Pentagon would be tough. If you have never found a burned up person I think you are lucky and I hope you never do because it is ugly, in many ways. Being a firefighter getting burned is that one thing you are always looking to avoid, yeah we get the occasional hands, face, ear and neck burns, but the really bad burns those are tough to behold and truly tough to get through and God Bless the brothers and sisters who have to go through that pain. Back to the story! Yes I would have been happy to answer local calls and other "minor" incidents that day but at 0645 I get a call from the battalion chief telling me that our engine was part of a task force going to Arlington to assist with the operations at the Pentagon.
Take another look at the crew, not a bad collection and one that would do a good job when we got there. Let the guys know what was going on got some extra stuff (gloves, hoods, etc) to ensure we had enough to last us through the day and headed to Fire Station 8 in Annandale to get placed into a task force for the Pentagon. As we were getting out of 8, the department’s behavioral specialist was there and he was letting us know we were heading to something that might be a little tough to see and to take and that he would be available when we got back. We mounted up and then proceeded out of the parking lot. The one thing I really remember is that we had a weird mix of units but when I looked at a lot of the drivers and officers, I saw people I had known for years and who were good firefighters and that really gave me a bit of comfort. So here, we are a procession of units responding in a solemn column down Columbia Pike to the Pentagon.
Cresting the hill and coming down to the Pentagon was surreal, movies are great and we have such a grasp on verbal communications today that I thought I would be ready for what I was about to see. As we got closer, the real magnitude of the scene unfolded before us and we knew that it was going to be a long day. The fires in the roof spaces had started up again and the smoke coming out of the building was impressive. As the units got to the staging area all of the officers were directed to report to the fire operations "command post" so I hooked up with the other OIC’s and we headed over there. The ICP was right in front of the collapsed section of the building and I could feel the pressure of the building. Not sure of the dynamics there, but I really felt a pressure being that close to the collapsed part of the building.
We get our marching orders and I am assigned to the roof division on side David of the fire to "stop" the roof fires. Evidently there was something important up there because we were told that we would stop the fire, I am good with that give me a task and set me to work… The task was further enhanced when we were placed under the leadership of Battalion Chief John Gleske. John Gleske and I went to recruit school together and had studied together with Mike Godbout, Jerry Roussillon, and Boots Elmore for almost every promotional exam since then. In addition, I have said and still feel that John Gleske is one of the most competent and schooled tactical fire officers I have ever worked with…. Yeah I did beat him in a couple of those promotional tests, but yeah he is better. Now I am good, I am working with a tough crew and I have an excellent fireground officer to watch over us, not too shabby.
Really, there isn’t much to tell here, a lot of tough work. The area we worked on had a slate roof and we had to tear off the slate, pull up the wood (I think there were 1×6 inch boards supporting the slate) and get to the fire. Not easy but not impossible, but it is time and labor taxing and since I had already entered my 40’s I was working hard and feeling it. A couple of really weird things did happen while we were working on the roof. The first thing was that we were on the D-Ring, there are five rings at the Pentagon and the D ring is the second to last one before you get to the courtyard. I only had my crew at first so we were working pretty good while other crews were stretching a line to where we were at. As the crew and I were basically tearing off the roof a propane bottle below us blew up, that caused us a little excitement. I looked around at the other crews especially at the E Ring and saw Captain Tyrone Harrington (maybe a bit better that John Gleske, that speaks volumes) and he looked over at me waved and laughed. We went right back to work and with all the help we finally got we actually put the fire out, but it was tough work.
As the fire goes out and we are cleaning up and doing some overhaul work we are all sitting up on the roof and just thinking and talking about what happened and about what we knew was the loss of hundreds of firefighters in New York. Suddenly my portable radio went into the "Oh Shit" mode, the evacuation tone was going off. I looked at the other guys and really couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Then the message came in that an unidentified plane had been spotted and was coming towards the Pentagon. The Combat Air Patrol was 5 minutes away and the unknown plane was two minutes away. The radio message was to evacuate the building as quickly as possible. Ok, based on what had happened yesterday I am heading for the spot where we left our ladder truck. We jog over to that spot and to our amazement there is no ladder truck. The crew had a blown gasket and the ladder was actually set down next to the truck. Well the language was a little colorful and we all decided to just look and see if we could spot the plane, I actually had a halligan in my hands and was trying to decide if I could get the pilot before he got me, yeah I know sounds good but I am really a terrible shot so I know who would have won…..
Well that is about it, we really worked hard up there and yes when I was told that we were going that morning that really didn’t make my day. Would I change it? Not on my life. I have been a firefighter for over 30 years and pride myself on having done a good job. While my part may have been small that day I was proud to have been there and proud to have worked with my brothers as we fought the fires at the Pentagon!
………. Al Mullins
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