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(9:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Firefighters Are Dispatched after the Secret Service Incorrectly Reports that a Plane Has Hit the White House

Engine Company 16.Engine Company 16. [Source: District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department]The District of Columbia Fire Department (DCFD) sends engines to the White House after the Secret Service incorrectly reports that a plane has crashed into the presidential residence and the building is on fire. As well as reporting the supposed plane crash and fire, the Secret Service says the White House, or at least part of it (the specific details are unclear), has collapsed. In response to the report, the fire communications center dispatches a “box alarm” from Engine Company 16, the station that serves the White House. [Washington City Paper, 9/21/2001; Journal of Emergency Medical Services, 4/2002 pdf file; Firehouse Magazine, 10/31/2002] A box alarm consists of four engines, two trucks, a rescue company, and a battalion chief. [Journal of Emergency Medical Services, 4/2002 pdf file] Since the alleged incident is at the White House—the home of the US president—the response is increased by sending an additional battalion chief and the deputy fire chief, Rogers Massey, to deal with it. And because a building collapse has been reported, the DCFD’s cave-in task force, which comprises Rescue 3, Battalion Chief 3, Engine 15, and the hazmat (hazardous materials) task force, is also sent. However, when the crews arrive at the White House, they are promptly told to leave. A uniformed Secret Service officer waves them away and says: “Get the f_ck outta here! There’s a plane coming in!” Lieutenant Jeff Wright, one of the firefighters involved in the response, will later recall the turn of events, saying: “It was mass confusion. We go down to the White House and no one knows what’s going on. We could see smoke coming from Virginia [where the Pentagon is located].” The report of the incident at the White House is investigated and determined to be unfounded. However, after he receives intelligence reports from the FBI, Special Operations Battalion Chief Michael Sellitto decides he will keep his units near the White House in case attacks should subsequently occur there or at the Capitol building. [Washington City Paper, 9/21/2001; Journal of Emergency Medical Services, 4/2002 pdf file; Firehouse Magazine, 10/31/2002] The DCFD will also respond to the attack on the Pentagon, which occurred at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). It will dispatch a box alarm to the Department of Defense’s headquarters at around 9:48 a.m. [DCFD (.com), 9/12/2001; Washington City Paper, 9/21/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 72]

Entity Tags: District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, US Secret Service, Jeff Wright, Michael Sellitto, Rogers Massey, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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