On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 it was a beautiful, blue-sky filled day in Potomac, Md., a suburban community just outside Washington, D.C. I was at work at the recently renovated library at Winston Churchill H.S. The Media Specialist had recieved a telphone call from her husband who worked downtown at the Voice of America to tell her an airplane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. We scrambled to get one of the new TV sets out in the library to watch the unfolding events. As our cable TV system at the school was not yet working, we improvised an antenna using a paperclip to receive the local TV signals. We tuned in to WRC-TV Channel 4 and NBC News’ unfolding coverage of the event. I remember just seconds after getting the TV on, we watched the second plane fly into the second World Trade Center building. I immediately knew this was no accident as we had previously thought. We watched in horror as the World Trade Center buildings continued to burn. We slowly began to gain an audience in the library as other school personnel began to learn of what was happening in New York City. Fortunately, no students were in the library at the time.
We watched the unfolding events on the snowy reception on the TV for what seemed like hours. Then, the phone on the Librarian’s Office rang again. It was her husband calling back to tell her there was a report another plane that was headed towards Washington, D. C. but it’s whereabouts was unknown. Little did we know that plane we were speaking about was passing overhead headed towards D.C at a low altitude towards it’s primary target, the White House (although the terrorist pilot of hijacked American Airlines flight 77 was unable to locate it and turned into it’s ultimate target, the Pentagon). As we learned of the crash into the Pentagon, the Principal of the school quietly began to lock the school down because we did not know how these unfolding events would affect the school’s operation. As the phone lines in the school’s main office began constantly ringing, parents were calling in to make arrangements to pick their children up from the school. The local school district’s decision was to lock all schools down (called “sheltering in place”) until more information was available, so the parents were not being allowed to pick their children up until a decision was made that it was safe for them to do so.
I was also a volunteer EMT with a local rescue squad and made a call to get more information as to what was happening outstide of the school. We learned that multiple calls were being made for additional emergency crews to man the apparatus. As the event at the Pentagon unfolded, we were told the emergency services responding to Arlington, Va. was massive as there was an assumption that there may have been survivors of the crash and in the building. I waited at the school doing what I could to let the students know they were safe until we were cleared to leave which was about 2 o’clock that fateful afternoon.
I made sure to arrange to meet my wife, who worked close to the school at a law office, at the Rescue Squad to help prepare for what was to come later that day and in the days that followed. I was there for several days staffing an ambulance as a great deal of our local fire/rescue equipment and emergency personnel, including some of our own, had already been and were continuing to be deployed to Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Va. as their resources where being stretched thin as they continued to support the initial response to what we learned was a terrorist attack on the Pentagon. This went on for several days following the event as additional equipment, rehab and replacement crews continued to be sent to the scene.
As a result, my son who was already a local volunteer firefighter/EMT, decided to become a career firefighter after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. He almost made the decision to go and become a New York City firefighter, although he did eventually become a local career firefighter/paramedic. My wife and I continue to serve our community, I as a volunteer EMT and she as an Fire Auxiliary member. One of our fire trucks has the words, “We Will Never Forget 9-11-01″ on the front grill with a waving American flag emblazened on it. It gives us a constant reminder of the sacrifices made that day by the brave NYFD responders and other rescue personnel.