Recalling 9/11 in Alexandria

Recalling 9/11 in Alexandria

First responders reflect on the terrorist attack of 16 years ago and life since.

The 9/11 memorial ceremony outside of City Hall.

The 9/11 memorial ceremony outside of City Hall. Photo by Vernon Miles.

“ some point nearly every single day, I think about it.” — Fire Chief Robert Dubé

After 16 years, 9/11 can be a passing thought for many Americans. But Alexandria Fire Chief Robert Dubé thinks about 9/11 just about every day. Dubé was a captain in the Fairfax County Fire Department in 2001. As he was walking down a hallway, a supervisor called him into an office where they were watching footage from the World Trade Center in New York.

“When the second plane hit, we realized it was way more than an accident,” said Dubé. “I just started thinking that I have a lot of friends in New York City. I knew a bunch of guys up there [in the fire department]. My first thought was to them and what kind of challenges they would have fighting that fire.”

Dubé said that he was just thinking that they might be called up to assist with clearing out the rubble in New York when the news came in: a plane had hit the Pentagon. Dubé was one of the first responders arriving at the Pentagon and years later, he said the memories from that day still haunt him.

“I was part of the advance team for the task force that showed up early,” said Dubé. “We did recon inside where the collapse had occurred. My initial observations, when I think back, was how much damage done. There were 36 inch in diameter concrete columns obliterated. Everything was destroyed and it was tremendously hot; the heat stayed for three days. It came from the fuel fire and the concrete soaked it in.”

Even in the years after, Dubé said he never saw another incident quite like that day.

“I was deployed about a dozen times with that task force around the world,” said Dube. “I’ve seen a number of collapsed buildings, but I’d never been to a plane crash into a commercial building that collapsed.”

Dubé couldn’t make it out to Market Square on Sept. 11, 2017, but members of the City Council, Chief of Police Mike Brown, and Sheriff Dana Lawhorne gathered with a small group of local citizens to commemorate 9/11.

“We are not alone as we come together to remember that harrowing time,” said Mayor Allison Silberberg. “We continue to hold the families and loved ones [of those killed] in our hearts.”

Brown recalled that he was in an information center in Los Angeles following the events in New York. Brown said the Los Angeles first responders were all watching the footage of firefighters running into the World Trade Center in New York and waiting, any minute, to be called into action to do the same.

“The first responders and others that died should not be forgotten,” said Brown. “They should not have died in vain.”

For Dubé, his children were old enough to remember what happened. It sometimes gets brought up and discussed in his family.

“It never goes away,” said Dubé. “I honestly, at some point nearly every single day, I think about it. Everybody there did heroic work. I’m sure everyone was glad they were there and proud to have been a part of that. But it never goes away.”