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Profile: Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD)
Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Military medical personnel tend to simulated victims during the exercise ‘Cloudy Office.’ [Source: Renee Sitler / US Air Force]A training exercises is held in which hundreds of personnel from the military and other government agencies practice their response to a terrorist attack at the Pentagon involving chemical weapons. The exercise, which lasts about 10 hours, is called “Cloudy Office,” and is run by the Defense Protective Service (DPS)—the law enforcement agency that guards the Pentagon—and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Over 500 people from federal, state, and local agencies take part. [BBC, 5/31/1998; American Forces Press Service, 6/9/1998; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 151]
Scenario Involves Terrorists Taking Pentagon Staffers Hostage - Cloudy Office is based around a scenario in which nine pro-Iraqi terrorists, armed with pistols and shotguns, split off from a group of tourists at the Pentagon, burst into Secretary of Defense William Cohen’s office, and take Cohen’s staff hostage. The mock terrorists have with them a gallon jug of liquid simulating sarin, a liter bottle of diluted sarin, and an explosive device. They threaten to release the sarin—a lethal nerve gas—if their demands are not met. Someone accidentally knocks over the jug in the confusion, thereby releasing lethal fumes throughout the Pentagon. Hazardous material teams from local fire departments arrive at the scene and set up decontamination facilities, and military medical personnel set up triage units to treat potential sarin victims. Meanwhile, members of the DPS go into the Pentagon to negotiate with the mock terrorists. Eventually the mock terrorists release the hostages and surrender. [Tulsa World, 5/31/1998; Washington Post, 5/31/1998; American Forces Press Service, 6/9/1998] Twenty-six people are killed and 100 contaminated by the sarin gas in the scenario, with the mock victims being played by military employees. [CNN, 5/30/1998; American Forces Press Service, 6/9/1998; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 151]
Pentagon Is Seen as a Potential Terrorist Target - Cloudy Office has been four months in the planning and is by far the largest exercise of its kind to be held in metropolitan Washington, DC. [Washington Post, 5/31/1998; American Forces Press Service, 6/9/1998] It was prompted partly by the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system by the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which killed 12 commuters. [CNN, 5/30/1998; Washington Post, 5/31/1998; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 151] It is part of an effort to improve America’s ability to respond to incidents involving chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. The Pentagon was selected as the location for the exercise because, as an international symbol of the United States military, it is considered a plausible terrorist target, according to John Jester, chief of the DPS. Agencies that participate include the Office of the Secretary of Defense; the Army Pentagon Medical Facility; the Washington Metropolitan Strike Force; the FBI; Arlington County, Virginia, fire and rescue departments; hazardous material teams; and the Virginia Office of Public Health. [Tulsa World, 5/31/1998; American Forces Press Service, 6/9/1998]
Egon Hawrylak. [Source: US Air Force]The US Army holds a major training exercise at Fort Lesley J. McNair, a base near the Pentagon, along with numerous law enforcement and emergency response agencies, and the exercise will improve coordination between these agencies when they work together in response to the attack on the Pentagon on September 11. [National Guard Bureau, 4/1/2002 ; EENET, 6/5/2002 ] Fort McNair, which is two miles east of the Pentagon, is the location of the headquarters of the US Army Military District of Washington (MDW). Numerous staff elements of the command stage their operations from the base. [Global Security (.org), 1/12/2002; US Army Military District of Washington, 10/22/2004] Colonel Egon Hawrylak, the deputy chief of staff for operations, plans, and security for the MDW, will later recall that on this day, “[W]e had conducted a huge tabletop exercise” at Fort McNair “with all the state, federal, and local law enforcement and emergency disaster relief agencies.” The exercise is held “in preparation for” the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which are scheduled to take place in Washington, DC, on September 29 and September 30. Agencies that participate in the exercise include the Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) and the FBI. Hawrylak will say that during the exercise, members of the different agencies “talked about things, so we knew each other; we knew how to coordinate and get things done together.” Hawrylak will not say what scenarios are prepared for during the exercise. He will say, however, that the exercise contributes to “the great working relationship” that the Army has with the ACFD, the FBI, and other agencies when they have to work together to respond to the attack on the Pentagon on September 11. [Reuters, 9/17/2001; National Guard Bureau, 4/1/2002 ; EENET, 6/5/2002 ] On September 5, security at Fort McNair was increased as part of a nationwide crackdown ordered by Army leaders who are concerned about terrorism (see August 15, 2001 and September 5, 2001). [MDW News Service, 8/3/2001; Washington Post, 8/15/2001]
The FBI’s Washington Field Office. [Source: FBI]The FBI’s Washington, DC, field office (WFO) holds a field training exercise in which various agencies practice their response to a terrorist attack involving weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The exercise is led by Special Agent Christopher Combs on behalf of the FBI. [9/11 Commission, 8/5/2003 ; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/17/2011] Combs is the assistant WMD coordinator on the National Capital Response Squad—an antiterrorism rapid response unit—out of the WFO.
Exercise Is Based around a Chemical Weapons Attack - The exercise is based around the scenario of a terrorist attack, according to Combs. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 76; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/17/2011] Assistant Chief James Schwartz of the Arlington County Fire Department will later describe it as a “major chemical exercise,” presumably meaning it involves a hypothetical attack with a chemical weapon. It is held at an unspecified location in Fairfax County in Northern Virginia and is attended by “all the area fire departments, police departments, and the FBI,” Combs will say. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/17/2011; Arlington TV, 7/18/2011; Arlington TV, 10/8/2014] It is held on the Sunday before 9/11—September 9—according to Combs. [Kettl, 2008, pp. 203; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/17/2011] Other accounts, however, will state that it is held on September 8, the Saturday before 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 8/5/2003 ; Arlington TV, 7/18/2011; Arlington TV, 10/8/2014]
Exercise Improves the Response to the Pentagon Attack - Many people who participate in the exercise will be involved in the emergency response to the attack on the Pentagon on September 11. [Kettl, 2008, pp. 203] Combs, for example, will arrive at the Pentagon just minutes after the attack there and initially serve as the on-scene FBI commander at the crash site. [9/11 Commission, 8/5/2003 ; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 76] The exercise reportedly has a beneficial effect on the ability of its participants to respond to the Pentagon attack. It is “one more of those opportunities for us to not only get to know each other but [also to] figure out how we were going to interoperate with each other,” Schwartz will comment. Consequently, on September 11, there will already be “a great deal of understanding about how we were going to work together on this kind of an incident.” [Arlington TV, 7/18/2011] The FBI’s WFO and the Arlington County Fire Department, which participates in today’s exercise, regularly train together and often respond jointly to real-world incidents. [9/11 Commission, 8/5/2003 ]
Preparations are already underway for the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which are scheduled to take place in Washington, DC on September 29-30, 2001. Many of the agencies that will be involved in the emergency response to the Pentagon attack, including the Arlington County Fire Department, are engaged in preparations for the IMF/World Bank event (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [United Press International, 9/6/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A-4 ; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 314] The meetings have been designated as a National Special Security Event (NSSE). [New York Times, 8/18/2001; Euromoney, 9/1/2001] The Secret Service is in charge of security for NSSEs. [United States Secret Service, 2002] The FBI and FEMA also have key roles. [CSO Magazine, 9/2004; Scripps Howard News Service, 1/11/2005] There are questions about how preparations for an NSSE might have affected security around Washington. When preparing for such an event, the Secret Service carries out “a tremendous amount of advance planning and coordination in the areas of venue and motorcade route security, communications, credentialing, and training.” It conducts a “variety of training initiatives,” including “simulated attacks and medical emergencies, inter-agency tabletop exercises, and field exercises.” [United States Secret Service, 2002] According to former FBI Director Louis Freeh, in 2000 and 2001 the use of airplanes by terrorists in suicide missions is “part of the planning” for NSSEs. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004] Also, the Secret Service is mandated to create capabilities for achieving “airspace security” over NSSEs. [US Congress, 3/30/2000 ] But whether it has such capabilities already in place around Washington is unknown. Though there are only about four or five NSSEs each year, preparations also happen to be underway in New York for another possible NSSE (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Department of Homeland Security, 7/9/2003; US Department of Homeland Security, 11/8/2004] The IMF/World Bank event will be cancelled due to the 9/11 attacks. [CBS News, 9/17/2001]
At the District of Columbia Fire and EMS Training Academy, firefighters are taking part in what is described as a “counterterrorism class” or “antiterrorism exercises.” This is in preparation for the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which are scheduled to take place in Washington, DC, at the end of this month. Numerous individuals who will later respond to the attack on the Pentagon are in attendance. These include some firefighters with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) at Reagan National Airport. [CBS News, 9/17/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 69 and 78] Captain Scott McKay of the Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) is also reportedly “attending a counterterrorism class with the FBI in the District [of Columbia].” [Washington Post, 9/20/2001] And other ACFD personnel are reportedly “engaged in meetings in the District of Columbia, preparing for the upcoming International Monetary Fund (IMF) conference.” [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A4 ] FBI Special Agent Christopher Combs, who is the regular FBI liaison to the fire services and routinely cross-trains with regional departments, is at the Fire Academy, “training firefighters in counterterrorism tactics.” Combs serves on the FBI’s National Capital Response Squad (NCRS), an antiterrorism rapid response unit. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 76] Members of the NCRS will be notified and recalled after the second WTC crash, and Combs will subsequently head to the Pentagon after hearing of the attack there, arriving at 9:49 a.m. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C45 and 1-1 ]
People in the vicinity of the Pentagon, including the managers of the high USA Today building, phone the local emergency call center, with concerns about their own safety. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 48; McClatchy Washington Bureau, 2008] The Emergency Communications Center (ECC) is the focal point of all police and fire 911 calls for Arlington County, where the Pentagon is located. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 66] After events in New York make it clear the US is under attack, the phones there light up with calls from local people wanting to know what to do. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 48] According to Assistant Chief James Schwartz of the Arlington County Fire Department, the center is “receiving phone calls from buildings that are along the [Potomac] river and are also along the flight path for [Washington’s Reagan] National Airport,” which is about a mile from the Pentagon. [McClatchy Washington Bureau, 2008]
USA Today Building Managers Concerned - Among the callers to the ECC are the building managers at the USA Today building in Rosslyn, who are worried their complex could be a target and want to know if they should evacuate it. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 48] The USA Today complex is just a few miles down the road from the Pentagon. [USA Today, 9/13/2001] It includes the two tallest high-rise buildings in the county, one of which is 30-stories high. [Washington Business Journal, 9/11/2001; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 9] These two buildings are in fact known as the “Twin Towers.” [Washington Business Journal, 9/7/2001]
ECC Suggests Evacuation - The ECC has no specific guidance it can offer the building managers, but tells them that if it makes them feel better, based on what they are seeing on television, then they should evacuate their building. [McClatchy Washington Bureau, 2008] Some employees will begin evacuating from the USA Today building after the Pentagon is hit at 9:37. However, Westfield Realty, the company that owns the building, will not ask the tenants to evacuate until around 11:00 a.m. [Washington Business Journal, 9/11/2001; Washington Business Journal, 9/14/2001]
Firefighters Think USA Today Building Is a Possible Target - Around the time that the ECC is receiving calls from concerned people in the area, firefighters at a local fire station who have seen the television footage of the attacks in New York start speculating what landmarks terrorists might go for if they attacked northern Virginia. The firefighters in fact see the USA Today complex as the most obvious target, but they also consider the Pentagon, CIA headquarters, the White House, and the Capitol building to be potential targets. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 9-10] Just before the time of the Pentagon attack, a fire alarm will go off at the USA Today building, though it is unclear whether this is actually caused by a fire there (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [McClatchy Washington Bureau, 2008]
The ‘Twin Towers’ USA Today building in Rosslyn, Virginia. [Source: Monday Properties]Arlington County firefighters are dispatched in response to a fire alarm at the USA Today building, located just a few miles down the road from the Pentagon, though whether there is actually a fire there is unclear. [USA Today, 9/13/2001; McClatchy Washington Bureau, 2008] The USA Today complex, in the Rosslyn area, includes the two tallest high-rise buildings in the county, which are in fact known as the “Twin Towers.” [Washington Business Journal, 9/7/2001; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 9] The building’s managers had been worried that the complex could be a terrorist target, and called the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC), asking if they should evacuate (see (9:04 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to Assistant Chief James Schwartz of the Arlington County Fire Department, “Shortly after that, we had a fire response for alarm bells at the USA Today building.” Schwartz is dispatched to the building, but before he leaves his office, word is received about the Pentagon attack, so he heads to the Pentagon instead. [McClatchy Washington Bureau, 2008; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 48-49]
Fire Chief Believes Alarm Activated to Facilitate Evacuation - Schwartz will later reflect, “I’ve always suspected that people who were evacuating [the USA Today building] decided that they would pull the fire alarm in order to get everybody out of the building, and that initiated a response on our part.” [McClatchy Washington Bureau, 2008] However, according to USA Today spokesman Steve Anderson, who is at the complex, employees of USA Today and its parent company Gannett only begin evacuating the building after the Pentagon attack occurs. Westfield Realty, the company that owns the building, asks all the tenants to evacuate at about 11:00 a.m., but most will already have left by then. [Washington Business Journal, 9/11/2001; Washington Business Journal, 9/14/2001]
Report Apparently Describes Same Incident - The alarm at the USA Today building may be the same incident as is later described in the Arlington County After-Action Report on the emergency response to the Pentagon attack. The report states that, “just one minute before the Pentagon crash,” several fire and medical units are dispatched “to an apartment fire at 1003 Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn” (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A9 ] The address of the USA Today complex is reported as being “1000 and 1110 Wilson Blvd.,” suggesting this is the same building as where the “apartment fire” is reported to be. [Washington Business Journal, 9/7/2001] The first engine to arrive in response to the apartment fire reports that it is already out. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A9 ]
News Reports of Fire - In the aftermath of the attack on the Pentagon, news reports will—apparently incorrectly—describe a fire at the USA Today building. At 9:46 a.m., local radio station WTOP will report, “We’re hearing from a caller who says she is eyewitness to another hit here in town; the USA Today building may also be on fire in addition to the Pentagon.” [Broadcasting and Cable, 8/26/2002] The Washington Post will describe, “The USA Today building in Rosslyn was supposedly enveloped in smoke.” [Washington Post, 9/11/2001] But the Associated Press states that “Radio reports about an explosion at the USA Today building in Rosslyn were false.” [Associated Press, 9/11/2001]
Initial firefighting efforts after the attack on the Pentagon. [Source: US Department of Defense] (click image to enlarge)Numerous area firefighters and other emergency workers promptly learn of the Pentagon crash and are able to arrive at the crash scene within 5 or 6 minutes of the attack. These responders include members of the Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) and the Fort Myer Fire Department, plus units belonging to the Fire and Rescue Department of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 66] ACFD’s training officer, Captain Chuck Gibbs, reaches the crash site within 3 minutes of the attack, followed a minute later by Battalion Chief Bob Cornwell, who assumes initial incident command responsibilities. ACFD Captain Edward Blunt arrives at 9:42 and establishes Emergency Medical Services control. ACFD Truck 105 is the first unit to arrive, reaching the scene at 9:41. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A5-A6 and 1-1 ] A minute after it, Rescue Engines 161 and 162 of the Fort Myer Fire Department arrive, followed by a reserve pumper, Engine 163. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 68] MWAA fire and medical units, and the first contingent of the FBI’s National Capital Response Squad, also arrive within 5 minutes of the crash. By 10:00 a.m., most of the ACFD duty shift will be engaged at the Pentagon. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A7 ] Federal, state, and local civilian police officers also arrive within minutes of the attack. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 161] Most Arlington County Police Department officers will have reached the scene within 3 hours. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C6 ] Several factors have contributed to the prompt emergency response:
The Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC), which is the focal point of all police and fire 911 calls for the county, received several calls from emergency workers who saw the low-flying plane approaching the Pentagon (see (9:36 a.m.-9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 66]
Some fire and rescue units responded after hearing the radio message of Fire Captain Steve McCoy, reporting the crash. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A4 ]
Numerous emergency units were already on the road near the Pentagon, and were able to quickly respond, after being called out to an apartment fire that was found to have already gone out (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Fire Engineering, 11/2002]
And MWAA firefighters were already responding to a car crash at nearby Reagan National Airport, had heard the sound of the crash, and saw the resulting smoke rising into the air (see (9:20 a.m.-9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 69-70]
A US Park Police helicopter that is responding to the attack on the Pentagon and flying above the building transmits a live video feed of the crash scene to the FBI and other agencies, providing them with instant information about the extent of the damage and destruction at the Pentagon. [US Congress. House, 9/11/2002; National Park Service, 9/21/2002] The helicopter, which has the call sign “Eagle I,” is one of two helicopters belonging to the Park Police Aviation Unit that arrived at the Pentagon minutes after the attack there (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Rotor and Wing, 11/2001] It has microwave “downlink” capability, which enables its crew to fly over a particular location and transmit instantaneous video images to the Park Police chief’s command post and other locations.
FBI Requests Video of Crash Scene - Shortly after Eagle I arrives over the Pentagon, the crew receives a request from the FBI to send it information using the downlink on their helicopter’s video camera. [McDonnell, 2004, pp. 22 ] According to Sergeant Ronald Galey, the pilot of Eagle I, the FBI arrives on the scene “within 10 minutes or 15 minutes” of his helicopter reaching the Pentagon. Galey will later recall: “We heard from them immediately: ‘Start your downlink, we want to capture everything that we can.’” [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001] The downlink capability then enables the crew of Eagle I “to transmit real-time images and information to people who needed them to make decisions,” according to the National Park Service’s account of 9/11. As well as the FBI, the images are sent to the Secret Service, the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police, and Park Police headquarters. Eagle I spends “the next four or five hours flying overhead and transmitting video images to the FBI.” [National Park Service, 9/21/2002; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 23 ]
Fire Department Chief Goes Up in Helicopter - The Park Police’s two Bell 412 helicopters are packed with sophisticated equipment. As well as the microwave downlink, they have an infrared heat detection system known as FLIR (forward looking infrared). When the Arlington County Fire Department later has difficulty getting its equipment to the proper locations to fight the fires in the Pentagon, its chief will be taken up in Eagle I and flown low over the building. The infrared imagery will help him locate the fires under the roof so he can better position his firefighting crews and equipment. [National Park Service, 1/17/2002; Rotor and Wing, 2/2002; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 23-24 ]
Late in the evening of September 13, 2001, search and rescue operations at the Pentagon have to be temporarily suspended when—after firefighters thought they had the crash site under control—a sizeable fire breaks out, sending smoke hundreds of feet into the air. [CNN, 9/13/2001; Associated Press, 9/14/2001; CNN, 9/14/2001; NPR, 9/14/2001] The fire erupts in the pile of debris at the impact area where the aircraft hit the Pentagon, and is apparently caused by a “hot spot” that reignited. Fire commanders had been concerned about the smoke coming from the pile earlier in the evening, yet there is no engine available to extinguish any fire. There was an engine by the pile all through the day, but this left at the end of the day shift. Because of tightened security, the engine due to replace it is taking longer than usual to arrive. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 389 and 393] The order goes out: “We need everybody to evacuate. The building is on fire again.” Firefighters and workers for agencies such as the FBI and FEMA evacuate, either to the lawn in front of the crash site or the Pentagon’s center courtyard. Yet the fire appears to be contained in the rubble pile, with little danger of spreading. One worker questions: “So why are they stopping us? Why can’t we keep working?” [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 393-394 and 400-401] Eventually, a fire truck arrives to tackle the blaze. About two hours after it first flared up, the fire is out and recovery workers can continue their activities. [CNN, 9/14/2001; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 394-395 and 401] Firefighting and other rescue operations were also significantly disrupted three times during September 11-12, due to false alarms over unidentified aircraft approaching Washington (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001, and (10:00 a.m.) September 12, 2001). [Fire Engineering, 11/2002]
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