As each September 11th rolled around, I’ve struggled with what to write. For me, the timeline and thoughts I put down a few weeks after the attacks said what I felt at the time. The need wasn’t there to say more. It was written six years before STATter911.com existed at a time when the events were fresh in my mind. I’ve posted it with an updated introduction every year. You can see last year’s posting here. I believe the timeline of the day at the Pentagon still has value.
This year, my friends Chief Marc Bashoor and Janelle Foskett at FireRescue1.com challenged me to dig a little deeper and return to the events I witnessed at the Pentagon. I did and they were kind enough to post it as part the website’s excellent coverage titled 9/11 Reflections at 20 years. There are some wonderful articles that you should read.
Mine looks at some of the tragic events of the day at the Pentagon but also focuses on a visionary fire chief who was trying — somewhat unsuccessfully — to convince a reporter that maybe the story he wants to tell isn’t what was really important.
We were supposed to discuss a shortage of paramedic ambulances, but the fire chief sitting across from me that morning about 25 years ago had other things on his mind.
The meeting, at a diner, was set up by the communications director in Arlington County, Virginia. She thought the chief should get better acquainted with the television reporter who broke the recent story about the EMS problems in the area.
If Ed Plaugher provided insight into ambulance staffing that morning, I don’t remember it. What I clearly recall are the two topics Chief Plaugher talked about over bacon and eggs – smoke alarms and terrorism.
As Plaugher drew a diagram on a napkin of what’s wrong with current smoke alarms and how he would fix them, I was starting to believe this was a diversion to keep me from asking about EMS issues. But there was something quite sincere in his voice and manner.
The chief told me it’s not just poorly designed smoke alarms that keep him awake, it’s the threat of international terrorism here in Arlington, the smallest county in the U.S. Plaugher talked a lot about the 1995 Sarin gas attack in Tokyo’s subway. Arlington had a pair of subway lines that, not coincidentally, ran through the county’s most densely populated communities. We also talked about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a story I had covered.