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Context of 'Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001: Army Base near Pentagon Holding Air Field Fire Fighting Training'

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Fort Myer and Fort Lesley J. McNair, both within two miles of the Pentagon, implement “full access control,” which means they increase the level of military police surveillance of those who enter them. Visitors are now required to register and sign in at a visitor center, and obtain a temporary pass. The measures, part of a security crackdown due to concerns about terrorism, will allow commanders to know who is entering their installations 24 hours a day and adjust their security measures immediately as needed. (Wamble 8/3/2001; Vogel 8/15/2001) All other Army posts in the Washington, DC area are currently implementing similar access restrictions (see August 15, 2001).

Alan Wallace.Alan Wallace. [Source: Michael Norris]A fire chief calls his firefighters who are manning the fire station at the Pentagon’s heliport, and warns them that there could be more attacks, and Washington could be a target. (Wallace 4/17/2003; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 20-21) Chief Charles Campbell works with the fire department at Fort Myer, an army base 1.5 miles northwest of the Pentagon, which sends three of its firefighters each day to man the fire station at the Pentagon heliport. (Lilly and Walz 11/2/2001) Campbell calls the station to make sure his firefighters there—Alan Wallace, Mark Skipper, and Dennis Young—are aware of what is going on in New York. He tells them, “These were intentional acts of terrorism.” He speaks “to each of the three firefighters, making sure they [are] all on their toes and ready to respond to an unexpected incident.” Wallace will recall that Campbell “wanted to be sure we were aware of everything going on around the fire station.” Campbell says there could be more attacks, and that “If it had happened in New York, it could happen in Washington.” As Wallace recalls, Campbell says “Washington, DC could very well be a target and if that happened, our fire truck could be dispatched to an incident.” (Wallace 4/17/2003; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 20-21) Yet, while Campbell believes an attack on Washington is likely, neither the Pentagon nor any government buildings in Washington will be evacuated before the Pentagon is hit at 9:37 (see Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Plante 9/16/2001) The Fort Myer firefighters will narrowly escape suffering serious injuries when the Pentagon attack occurs (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Lilly and Walz 11/2/2001)

At the Education Center at Fort Myer, an army base 1.5 miles northwest of the Pentagon, the base’s firefighters are undertaking training variously described as “an airport rescue firefighters class”; “an aircraft crash refresher class”; “a week-long class on Air Field Fire Fighting”; and a “training exercise in airport emergency operations.” Despite hearing of the first WTC crash during a break, with no access to a TV, the class simply continues with its training. According to Bruce Surette, who is attending the session: “We had heard some radio transmissions from some other units in Arlington about how they thought they had a plane down here or a plane down there. So you’re thinking, ‘Hey this could be real.’ But it really didn’t strike home as being real until our guy came on the radio and said where the plane crash was.” The Fort Myer firefighters then immediately head for the Pentagon, arriving there at 9:40 a.m., only three minutes after it is hit, and participate in the firefighting and rescue effort there. The fire station at the Pentagon heliport is actually operated by the Fort Myer Fire Department, and is manned on the morning of 9/11 by three Fort Myer firefighters who have already undertaken the airfield firefighting training. (Brewster 10/4/2001; Lilly and Walz 11/2/2001; Ward 4/2002 pdf file; US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002 pdf file; Wallace 4/17/2003) The Fort Myer military community, which includes Fort Myer and Fort Lesley J. McNair—another army base, just two miles east of the Pentagon—was scheduled to hold a “force protection exercise” the week after 9/11. However this has been cancelled, so just prior to the attacks the morning of September 11, “some of its participants [are] breathing a sigh of relief.” (Norris 9/14/2001)

According to a fireman’s account, firefighting efforts at the Pentagon are hampered by smoke and small explosions coming out of a construction trailer near the impact site. On the morning of 9/11, Russell “Rusty” Dodge, Jr., an assistant chief with the Fort Belvoir Fire Department, is at Fort Meyer, about a mile from the Pentagon, for a training exercise (see Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). He is one of the first to arrive on the scene. He tries to put out the fires, but a construction trailer is a serious obstacle. He will later recall, “[T]hat trailer was the main producer of smoke on the outside of the building….” The trailer “was producing some severe fires and subsequent mini explosions due to highly flammable chemicals in it…. Luckily the chemical containers were caged. Otherwise the fires would have been worse.” (Brewster 10/4/2001)

Fort Myer.Fort Myer. [Source: US Army]At 6:00 a.m., the FBI opens the Joint Operations Center (JOC) for coordinating the emergency response to the Pentagon attack. The JOC is located in a community center at Fort Myer, an army base 1.5 miles northwest of the Pentagon, and is commanded by FBI Special Agent in Charge Timothy Bereznay. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A23 and A28 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161) The US government’s January 2001 Interagency Domestic Terrorism Concept of Operations Plan (CONPLAN) allocated to the FBI responsibility for activating a JOC to coordinate the activities of federal departments and agencies in response to terrorist attacks. All the government organizations responding to the Pentagon attack are expected to assign a senior representative with decision-making authority to the JOC. There are 26 such representatives in all. Because many of the responding agencies are unfamiliar with the functions of the JOC, there is initially “considerable confusion” after it opens. (US Government 1/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. C49 and C51 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161) The FBI has been able to set up the JOC particularly quickly as a result of its preparations for the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, scheduled to take place in Washington at the end of September (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). Months previously, the FBI surveyed regional sites and chose Fort Myer as the location to coordinate the law enforcement response to any violent protests at that event. (Tran 9/14/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161)


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