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Voices from Arlington — Jim Schwartz

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.