In recognizing the fifth anniversary of 9/11, firefighters and rescuers from the Fair Oaks Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company remember the day that changed the lives of many, but most of all, they remember the love and support they received from the public.
“There was a point where the kitchen overflowed with food,” said Blair Miller, a Fair Oaks volunteer canine search specialist, and “We couldn’t even consume it all.”
“We tried,” said Mark Servello, a Fair Oaks volunteer technician. “We can’t do [our jobs] without the support of the community.”
That outpouring of community support made the volunteers feel special, said Miller. Their volunteer department provided back-up assistance to the Arlington and Fairfax County Fire Departments that were on the scene at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, and for many weeks thereafter. In the midst of the terrorist attacks, Servello said the regular 911 calls didn’t go away, thus the burden on the area’s rescue workers became a large one. As Miller and Servello recall that chaotic day, they remember their work taking over and their duty to help and save others remaining their number one priority. The volunteers, after all, are there to be able to step up when the county is in crisis, said Miller.
“All I remember was working at the Pentagon,” said Miller, whose Canine search dog, Thor, joined him at work every day. “I didn’t see images [of the planes hitting the buildings] until the first week of October.”
WHILE MOST AMERICANS watched the images countless times that day, many watching live on television as they took place, firefighters and rescue workers in both Washington and New York City were too busy trying to save lives. As the fifth anniversary of that horrible day approaches, the volunteers remember what happened, just as they do almost any other day. They also remember thinking about their peers who were caught inside the World Trade Center, as it burned and later collapsed. They remember thinking it could have been them.
“I thought about how many dead firemen are in there,” said Servello. “It’s like 343 of your own family.”
The firefighters’ families all had to go through the emotions of the day and following weeks without them. Servello said most of his family members were on a remote lake in Arizona, without phone or television access, so he knew he didn’t have much to worry about with them. Miller’s family was in Fairfax, and they watched him come home each morning after working at the Pentagon throughout the night. He would get home in the morning and sleep all day, just to wake up and do it all over again. Miller said it was tough, especially when he realized the emotions his family was feeling.
“My son was having trouble,” said Miller, fighting back tears. “He didn’t want me to leave because he thought I was going to get killed.”
The events that day have taught these firefighters a lot. Miller said his family now has a much better plan in place in the event of another emergency. The fire departments are now better prepared for something like this to happen again. They regularly practice with other jurisdictions and have better communication between them now.
Fairfax County officials and firefighters encourage every household to sit down and create a plan as well. Communication is a big theme, since cell phones on Sept. 11 were virtually useless. Miller said every family needs to sit down together and have an emergency planning discussion, create a communication plan and have a first-aid kit ready. “We have to capitalize on times like 9/11,” said Miller. “We want people to remember that, and do this and take it seriously.”