A Supporting Role
The surviving victims of the Pentagon attack encountered abundant EMS resources – the immediate availability of military doctors, nurses and first aid responders ensured the prompt and orderly initiation of triage and medical care delivery, and the capabilities assembled at the site within the first few hours proved more than was necessary. The main reason for this, as Chief Schwartz pointed out, was that about half the stricken area was just completing the first phase of a building renovation, a complete overhaul that kept the section – which on a normal day might have contained thousands of people – virtually unoccupied. Notable exceptions included the 2nd-floor Office of the U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel (DCSPER), the Army’s first-floor Resource Services-Washington (RSW) office, and the newly opened Navy Command Center, which occupied more than a third of an acre in the Pentagon’s D and C rings. These areas suffered heavy casualties on September 11. By early afternoon, 106 surviving victims requiring treatment had been transported to hospitals and other medical facilities; 57 were treated and released, while 49 were admitted for further treatment.
“The firefighters literally had to break up that slate and get hose streams up under there. The first twenty-four hours were very intensive in terms of firefighting, managing victims and providing medical care.”
Despite the unprecedented circumstances of the main fire, crews managed to extinguish the damaged impact area during the daylight hours of September 11. A troublesome roof fire, consuming the timber framing and old horsehair insulation beneath the slate and concrete decking of the Pentagon’s peaked roof, smoldered through the night, threatening to spread to other sections of the building, before it was finally isolated and extinguished. “It proved very difficult to control,” Schwartz said. “The firefighters literally had to break up that slate and get hose streams up under there. The first twenty-four hours were very intensive in terms of firefighting, managing victims and providing medical care.”
As conditions on the ground began to improve – as firefighters continued to knock down spot fires and engineers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency shored up the damaged sections and made them safe to enter – the primary objective of response began to shift toward safely dismantling the damaged parts of the building. Rescue technicians inevitably came across evidence – human remains or aircraft parts or, eventually, the plane’s flight data recorder – that had to be catalogued. The process was meticulous and often tedious, with the entire area electronically mapped and each item of evidence logged according to its GPS coordinates.
Leaders of the response operations had decided that all victim remains would be treated with the utmost respect. “We weren’t going to try and distinguish between civilian and military in that kind of an environment,” Schwartz said. “We would process those remains and the military would then convey those out of the building with the highest military honors. Everything – the entire incident team – would come to a stop. People would come to attention while the remains were taken out of the building and removed to a temporary morgue that was on the scene. And then we would go back to work until the next piece of evidence was found.”
“Policemen went in with the FBI and photographed each location, each body, each body part, and then recovered it and got it to the morgue. That went on for weeks. We had a couple officers who had to take disability time off after that, to recover their mental health.”
Eventually, the primary emphasis of operations at the Pentagon became the criminal investigation, at which point the FBI took over incident command, and area law enforcement personnel took on supporting roles. ACPD Capt. Kevin Reardon, who was then a lieutenant in the narcotics division, describes this phase of the operation as the most dramatic for law enforcement personnel. “Policemen went in with the FBI and photographed each location, each body, each body part, and then recovered it and got it to the morgue. That went on for weeks. We had a couple officers who had to take disability time off after that, to recover their mental health.”
In the latter phase of evidence collection, investigators combed through the tons of rubble, spread out with loaders over the Pentagon’s North Parking area, and found the evidence that told them who the hijackers were, how they got on the plane, and how they took control of Flight 77.