We left our home in Bowie and it was a very quiet ride to the County Administration Building (CAB) in Upper Marlboro. After we arrived at the CAB one our officers, a Battalion Chief (sadly, I don’t remember his name) asked if I had heard about what had happened in New York City. I remember responding yes. I also remember thinking what a tragedy and that the Fire Department of New York would have a very memorable day. Entering the building my mind began to shift toward my speech to the County Council. My wife, children and mother as well as several people that are very important to me would be there and I didn’t want to have a case of fumble mouth and embarrass anybody.
Outside the Council Chambers I sat and watched as my wife made last second adjustments to our children’s clothes and appearance as received several handshakes and well wishes. Someone mentioned a second aircraft had struck the World Center. I heard the comment but thought little about it as we waited. My excitement was building as I noticed Carla Blue, Fire Captain and Assistant to the Director of Public Safety walking briskly toward me. As she approached she said, “The County Executive wants to see you right now”. I thought, right now? Certainly not, right now. I asked where? She responded in his office. I turned to my wife and mother told them I needed to go upstairs. but that I would be right back.
I rode the elevator up wondering what the County Executive could possible need that would require my immediate attention. Arriving at the fifth floor the elevator doors opened where a normally subdued security team member frantically waved me toward the County Executive’s Office. The floor was quiet and not the usually very active floor and I had come to expect. I arrived at the County Executive’s Office and found him standing and staring and at a television monitor. On the screen was the smoke of flames from the fire at the Pentagon.
I did not fully appreciate what had occurred at the time (both towers at the World Trade Center had been struck, a plane was down or on its way down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon was also under attack). It was the largest attack of domestic terrorism in American history. The County Executive was subdued yet resolute when he said, what is our plan? I was a bit shocked and didn’t respond right away as I mentally tried to process what I saw on the television and County Executive’s question. Suddenly, every bit of experience, training and fire service coursed through me. America was at war, Prince George’s County could possibly have been targeted and citizens and residents of the County were counting on us to insure their safety. I advised the County Executive the Fire and EMS Department was ready. I also let him know information would be forthcoming from the Council of Governments and other sources about what was happening in the District of Columbia and the Region. I then told him I needed to get to the Fire Services Building to initiate our response and coordinate planning. As I turned to leave I felt a bit of calm. It was as if I had trained and worked to be prepared for the day all my fire service life.
Outside the County Executive’s Office my team of emergency service professional’s had gathered. William (Bill) R. McGown, Lieutenant Colonel – Emergency Operations, Maureen Hennessey, Lieutenant Colonel – Special Operations and Tyrone N. Wells, Lieutenant Colonel – Management Services had began the process addressing public safety in Prince George’s County. I directed an emergency callback of all off-duty personnel, suspension of prevention maintenance activities so that all rolling stock that could be made available was to be placed in service, the hazardous materials and explosive ordinance disposal teams were to be placed on high alert and any potential terrorist target in the County should be identified. I further advised them we would meet at the Fire Services Building in one hour and that they should be prepared to provide an update. I then raced to my vehicle where Bill Hawkins waited to drive me across the County.
Over the course of the next several days all our attention was turned toward what had occurred. The men and women of our department performed at a very high level and in the highest traditions of the American fire service. Command and control, response to the Pentagon and filling of fire stations in the District filled several days. There was a feeling of unity during that time that is often rare. I am to this very day very proud of the combined career, civilian and volunteer emergency family in Prince George’s County.
Although there was much work that remained to be done, Glenda Wilson, Chief of Staff arranged to have the confirmation hearing take place on September 13, 2001. At the conclusion there was a brief celebration on the fifth floor of the CAB and then back to work.
Thank you Prince George’s County for opportunity serve and a special thank you to all who served during that period in our department’s history.