Some Gave All

To this day, one call lives on with me.

It was a man, who spoke calmly and directly; however, his voice cracked slightly when he said her name. He told me his wife was on the flight that had reportedly crashed into the Pentagon, and he was certain that she had died. He said he knew because he could feel it. 

I listened to him, apologized and empathized. Everything I had been trained effectively to do--but this day was so different. He told me that what he wanted was assistance in locating any passengers that had been sitting next to or around her. He was sure she had shared a message with, or merely a last moment with, a fellow passenger. He needed to know what it was. 

Tears ran down my face knowing that I was not able to confirm what he believed to be true, in fact was. I could never fulfill his request - we knew that there were no survivors, but could not yet publicly announce it. 

This is one of many heartbreaks I shared on September 11, 2001. As an Emergency Communications Technician for Arlington County, Virginia, the city outside of DC where the Pentagon is located, I was tasked with taking calls from the public--mainly parents, the media and family members of Pentagon personnel.

The phones didn’t stop - they rang like never before in my 10 year career. To this day, I honestly don’t know if we lost calls due to wait time, or just the overload on the system. It was unlike anything we had ever experienced. 

The Emergency Communications Center was, to say it best, controlled chaos. Everyone was moving quickly, with faces of determination, but also concern: the air was even different. When I got my assignment to start grabbing phones, most positions were already filled, cramped with everyone trying to help.

I also remember, on the way to the Center after receiving my page, how odd it felt that the roads were clear of all traffic, except for other rescue vehicles, or vehicles occupied by others, like myself. And, living near Dulles International airport, it was equally as bizarre not seeing or hearing any planes overhead.

“I can’t imagine what New York City first responders are going through,” I thought. “Can you imagine the calls they are getting? What people there are saying and seeing?”

It was a quiet preparation for a day I carry with me, even eighteen years later. It was just the start of my life totally changing, forever.

Arlington’s Emergency Communications Center was extremely fortunate that day, because our fire department had trained for an event like this to occur, and had protocols in place. They, along with the police department, had already established relationships with surrounding jurisdictions. We had the personnel we needed at the time, and were in the middle of implementing a new phone system. 

It is a testimony to the importance of training we were, and still are, provided in Arlington County. Everyone that day worked together, supported each other, and when something didn’t work, were creative in ways of getting it done anyway. 

That “one day” for many turned into days, weeks, and months for those of us involved. Eighteen years later, and I still think of the man I spoke to whose wife perished in the Pentagon plane crash. I remember her, as well as all of those who were lost to the world that day.

It will be etched in our souls forever - the sadness, pride, sacrifice, and, in some cases, even guilt. All gave some -- but some gave all.

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Prior to joining Corner Alliance, Inc., Jen was Chief Watch Officer for the Arlington County (VA) Department of Public Safety and Emergency Management’s Watch Desk-Situational Awareness Unit and also served as the Department’s Public Information Officer.  She supervised the staff and daily operations as well as served as administrator of the county’s alerts and warnings mass notification system. She began her career in 1991 as a 9-1-1 Call Taker and Dispatcher and remained in the profession for over 20 years. She is certified by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials Institute as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher, Communications Training Officer, and Public Safety Answering Point Supervisor.

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