!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Edward Plaugher
Edward Plaugher was a participant or observer in the following events:
John McWethy. [Source: Steve Fenn / ABC]ABC News correspondent John McWethy was at the Pentagon at the time it was hit. [Newsweek, 9/24/2001] At some later time, an army general he knows offers to take him in closer to the crash site. McWethy recalls: “I got in very close, got a look early on at the bad stuff. I could not, however, see any plane wreckage—it was well inside and had been, basically, vaporized.” [Gilbert et al., 2002, pp. 187] The following day, Arlington County Fire Chief Ed Plaugher will similarly tell reporters: “[T]here are some small pieces of aircraft visible from the interior during this firefighting operation… but not large sections. In other words, there’s no fuselage sections and that sort of thing.” [US Department of Defense, 9/12/2001] According to the Defense Department’s book about the Pentagon attack: “The front part of the relatively weak fuselage [of Flight 77] disintegrated, but the mid-section and tail-end continued moving for another fraction of a second.… The chain of destruction resulted in parts of the plane ending up inside the Pentagon in reverse of the order they had entered it, with the tail-end of the airliner penetrating the greatest distance into the building.” [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 17] Navy Lt. Kevin Shaeffer reportedly sees a “chunk of the 757’s nose cone and front landing gear” in the service road between the Pentagon’s B and C Rings. [Virginian-Pilot, 9/9/2002] Other witnesses say they see a large airplane tire. [Marble and Milhiser, 9/2004, pp. 117-118; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 54] Army Staff Sgt. Mark Williams, whose search and rescue team enters the Pentagon less than four hours after the attack, recalls seeing “the scorched bodies of several airline passengers… still strapped into their seats” inside the building. [USA Today, 9/13/2001]
Edward Plaugher. [Source: C-SPAN]Chief Edward Plaugher of the Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) believes the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon should be evacuated but a senior Department of Defense official refuses when Plaugher advises him to evacuate it. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 132; Varley, 2009, pp. 255] Plaugher was in Fairfax, Virginia, when the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon occurred, but he quickly went to the Pentagon when he learned what had happened. He arrived there at around 10:00 a.m. and assumed the role of senior adviser, responsible for coordinating with the various responding local, state, and federal agencies. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A39 ; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 76-77; Journal of Emergency Medical Services, 9/2011 ]
Fire Chief Is Concerned that the NMCC Is Still in Operation - At some point after arriving, he becomes concerned that the NMCC has not been evacuated along with most other areas of the Pentagon. [Varley, 2009, pp. 255] The command center, located in the Joint Staff area of the Pentagon, has over 300 people working in it. [Federation of American Scientists, 4/29/1998] Additionally, senior officials including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, go there this morning to respond to the terrorist attacks (see (9:58 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 43-44] Although it was not damaged in the Pentagon attack, the NMCC is uncomfortably close to the fire, and the ACFD considers it unsafe to keep the facility up and running.
Staffers May Be at Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning - Plaugher therefore meets “a high-ranking official from the Office of the Secretary of Defense” to discuss his concerns. The identity of this person will be unstated. Plaugher says to the official, “Your building is on fire” and tells them to evacuate the NMCC. The official, however, refuses to do so. “We do not want to leave the national command post because our nation is under attack and we’re not sure how complex it is,” they say. Plaugher puts forward several arguments to try to persuade them to evacuate the NMCC. He explains the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and points out that “the first thing carbon monoxide does is to make you do wacky things.” Surely, he suggests, it is a bad idea to risk having NMCC staffers carrying out their sensitive work in an unreliable state of mind. The Defense Department official, though, refuses to back down and Plaugher, accepting that he is unable to win the argument, gives in. “I’m doing this negotiation with a guy who’s wearing a .45 on his arm and he’s got F-15s flying overhead—what am I supposed to do?” he will later comment.
NMCC Is Provided with Air Monitoring Equipment - Eventually, the ACFD and the Department of Defense come up with a compromise. The fire department provides the NMCC with a carbon monoxide detector and 25 sets of breathing apparatus, along with instructions for their use. Beyond this, Plaugher accepts that NMCC staffers will need to take responsibility for their own safety. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 132; Varley, 2009, pp. 255-256; Journal of Emergency Medical Services, 9/2011 ] All the same, at 12:19 p.m., Rumsfeld, Myers, and several other senior officials will leave the command center due to the poor air quality there and relocate to another area of the Pentagon (see 12:19 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 7/18/2002 ; Myers and McConnell, 2009, pp. 156-157]
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announces that, despite the unprecedented attack there this morning, September 12 will be a normal day at the Pentagon and he wants all employees to report for work. [Vogel, 2007, pp. 455; Graff, 2019, pp. 362] Rumsfeld has, since 12:19 p.m., been based in the Executive Support Center, on the third floor of the Pentagon (see 12:19 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 132] Earlier in the afternoon, he went outside to inspect the crash site and saw the extent of the damage there (see (Between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Myers and McConnell, 2009, pp. 158; George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, 8/3/2012] He saw that while the west wall is breached and on fire, the building’s other four sides are undamaged and at least 60 percent of the building is unaffected by the attack. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 247-248]
Rumsfeld Has Not Consulted the Incident Commander - He now tells those around him: “I want the chain of command to notify everybody that tomorrow, 12 September, is a normal workday at the Pentagon. I want everybody here reporting for work.” This is “a pretty startling announcement,” Colonel Matthew Klimow, executive assistant to General Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will later comment. [Graff, 2019, pp. 362] Rumsfeld did not consult Assistant Chief James Schwartz of the Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD), who is the incident commander at the Pentagon, or building supervisors before making the decision to reopen the Pentagon. [Vogel, 2007, pp. 455] “I hadn’t talked to anybody when I said that [the Pentagon should open the next day],” he will recall. His decision was based on his impression “that the smoke and problems had declined, and that there were undoubtedly significant portions of the building that could be occupied safely,” he will say. [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 12/23/2002 ] “Having it open for business the next day seemed to me to be important,” he will comment.
Firefighters Will Be Alarmed at Rumsfeld's Decision - Rumsfeld’s announcement, however, will cause concern among senior fire officials. Schwartz will be “astonished at the news,” according to journalist and author Steve Vogel, since firefighters are “battling a big and dangerous fire, an unknown number of dead [are] in the rubble, and there [is] danger of further collapse.” [Vogel, 2007, pp. 455] Chief Edward Plaugher of the ACFD will also be concerned, for a number of reasons. Pamela Varley, a senior case writer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, will describe these, writing: “From a fire safety perspective, it was not considered wise to have the utilities turned back on in parts of the building while the roof was on fire and a large volume of water was being sprayed there. In addition, the crash and fire were emitting potentially dangerous toxins into the building’s air supply. Finally, to have thousands of workers coming and going from the Pentagon complicated the task of controlling and securing the site, and threatened to impede the emergency response.” [Varley, 2009, pp. 256] FBI representatives, meanwhile, will be concerned because the Pentagon is a crime scene. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 144] And Steve Carter, the assistant building manager, will be “flabbergasted,” according to Vogel, although he will understand the rationale behind Rumsfeld’s decision, since the Pentagon has never closed its doors in its history. [Vogel, 2007, pp. 455]
Special Measures Will Be Arranged So the Pentagon Can Reopen - Rumsfeld’s decision will place additional burdens on the ACFD response force and the FBI’s evidence recovery team. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A65 ] Plaugher and John Jester, chief of the Defense Protective Service—the law enforcement agency that guards the Pentagon—will begin an informal negotiation over what will be necessary for large numbers of people to return to the Pentagon. Plaugher will insist that plywood barriers be erected to cordon off the whole area between Corridors 3 and 6. He will also want armed guards with the authority to turn back even the most senior officers placed at every juncture, to prevent military personnel returning to their wrecked offices. And, in light of the smoke and fumes from the fires, he will want plans in place to evacuate the building at a moment’s notice, if necessary. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 248-249] Due to FBI concerns, yellow crime scene tape and guards will signify that sections of the building between Corridors 2 and 7 are off limits, and wooden wall barriers will later be built to further restrict access to the crash site. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 144] Rumsfeld will publicly announce his decision to reopen the Pentagon on September 12 during a news briefing at 6:42 p.m. (see 6:42 p.m. September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; Government Executive, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.