Last Saturday morning was bright and clear with a hint of fall in the air. It was very similar to the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, which only added to the memories of the firefighters assembled at Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department Station #9, Mount Vernon.
Three years after the attacks on The Pentagon and the World Trade Center, they paused and assembled around the flag flying at half mast on the pole in front of the station to remember their fallen comrades and others that perished. There was no fanfare or speeches — just a long, silent remembrance.
Sitting in the driveway of the station was Truck 409. It was an integral part of those memories, at least for one of those assembled around that flag pole.
Technician Chris Kempton was on Truck 409 the morning of 9/11 when it entered the inner courtyard of the Pentagon. "They specifically requested Engine 409 because it had a boom that could get under the tunnel. It was lower on the top of the truck than most. It was also what we call a squirter with special equipment on the rear," Kempton said.
"I was there about an hour after the crash. I spent about 14 hours there that first day. Then I came back on the 13th to work on a medic unit," he said.
The truck has since been modified. The ladder/bucket boom is gone, as is the special equipment on the rear. It is now a regular fire truck with layers of hose on top.
Another of those now at Station 9 is Lt. Carlton Chatman. On Sept. 11, 2001 he worked out of Station 28 on Sleepy Hollow Road at Seven Corners. "I got to the Pentagon about 4 p.m. that day. We relieved the initial crews that had been there since morning," he said.
"We were mainly involved in search operations by that time. I was doing search on the second and third floors in the wings immediately next to the crash site. There were still stairs in that area," Chatman said.
"it was a day none of us will ever forget. It's always pretty solemn around here each anniversary, particularly at the time when the crashes occurred," Kempton said.
As they stood in silent tribute, with their heads bowed, the only sound was the traffic going past on Sherwood Hall Lane and the recorded music provided for ceremonies at stations throughout the county.