My foremost thoughts of Sept. 11 are for those that lost loved ones that day
and for those whose injuries have forever altered their lives. I think also of
the heroic efforts of the civilian and military occupants of the Pentagon on
Sept. 11. People, both in uniform and out, performed extraordinary acts of
selfless bravery in the early minutes of the tragedy, saving many lives.
I’ve described the morning of Sept. 11 before as surreal: Standing on the west
side of the Pentagon; flames hundreds of feet in the air; the dark smoke of
burning jet fuel; casualties spread across the lawn; the furious reports of
other aircraft unaccounted for in the effort to ground air traffic nationwide.
The roar of the low-flying fighter jet providing air cover over the rescue scene
drove home the fact that our nation was under attack.
My memories of that day are flooded by sounds and images of the men and women of
the Arlington County Fire Department, along with those of our regional partners.
Caring for severely injured people, fighting an incredibly large and hot fire,
searching for trapped occupants. They were first among the flames, then in the
rubble of the collapse. Their steadfast commitment to saving lives and
preserving the dignity of those lost will forever be an inspiration to me.
My mind also cannot escape the incredible loss suffered by the Fire Department
of New York on Sept. 11. The brotherhood among firefighters is deep and
inescapable. Every few days, year after year, we hear of the death of another
firefighter in some near or distant city or town and we feel that loss as if it
were our own. The loss of 343 members of the FDNY on Sept. 11, will not be
softened by five years or 50 years.
We are fortunate in Northern Virginia to be part of a regional approach to
providing fire and EMS service. The way we work day to day provided a seamless
integration of resources from several fire departments on Sept. 11, which serves
as a model for the nation.
Sept. 11 did not present the first time that the Arlington Fire Department
thought about terrorism. The department had worked for years to develop
capabilities to deal with what seemed inevitable. Studying Tokyo and Oklahoma
City, as well as the first World Trade Center bombing, became part of what we
did and continue to do. Today there are dozens more such incidents to study, and
I am confident that, should we face a similar crisis in the future, Arlington
will be ready.