In my career I have seen a fair amount of tension at times between law enforcement and the fire service, particularly over who is in charge. But I am not sure I have witnessed anything quite like the press release that came out early this morning from Sheriff Terry Maketa in El Paso County, Colorado. Sheriff Maketa sent the release in reaction to remarks made by Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey who told a reporter for KRDO-TV last night that the Black Forest wildfire in June "was human caused and appears intentional".
In the release, Sheriff Maketa warned that we should not "buy into" Chief Harvey's "unqualified knee jerk claims". Maketa says Harvey's "comments are nothing more than an attempt to mislead the public and a mere witch hunt". He concludes the release by saying, "Chief Harvey's comments are reckless, irresponsible and lack what is in the best interests of the community following this tragedy". Read the entire press release below.
It's rare for law-enforcement officials to release statements after midnight — and rarer still when the purpose of those statements is to tear one of their peers a new one.
But that's what happened at 12:30 a.m. this morning, when El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa issued a rant accusing Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey of irresponsibility when saying this year's incredibly destructive Black Forest fire appeared to have been intentionally set.
EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF TERRY MAKETA FINDS REMARKS MADE BY FIRE CHIEF DISTURBING
Sheriff Terry Maketa was shocked to see recent reports in the local news media where Black Forest Fire Chief Harvey was quoted concerning the active investigation into the cause of the Black Forest Fire. On more than one media source, Chief Harvey was quoted as saying the cause of the fire had been determined to be “intentional”.
Sheriff Maketa offered these comments concerning the inappropriate remarks.
“Do not buy into Chief Harvey's claims until it's confirmed by the actual agency that has been the lead of the investigation and will base its findings on indisputable scientific evidence that can withstand the scrutiny of the criminal justice system. Right now that isn't the case. His comments are nothing more than an attempt to mislead the public and a mere witch hunt. Numerous national experts and federal resources have been involved in this investigation and have not and cannot substantiate Chief Harvey's unqualified knee jerk claims. "Human caused" has been known for a long time but this Chief is not involved in the investigation nor qualified to offer legal and scientific evidence. He does not know the point of origin and has been less than truthful about other circumstances with this disaster and just may be merely covering his own mishandling of this event in an attempt to avoid responsibility for allowing the fire to get out of hand. Furthermore, this Chief didn't even know homes were burning at a time several were engulfed and never even requested evacuations of nearby households as the fire rapidly grew out of control, clearly placing citizen’s safety in jeopardy. It's an injustice that he has chosen to jump to these unjustified and inconclusive assumptions without any effort to coordinate with local investigative authorities that have expended extensive resources to identify the cause and manner of this serious tragedy. Chief Harvey's comments are reckless, irresponsible and lack what is in the best interests of the community following this tragedy.”
Thanks to firefighterdispatch for alerting us to the audio above from a fire yesterday in the 200 block of Hague Street in Detroit. It provides a dose of reality, showing what Detroit firefighters have been facing for a long time now.
Take a listen. It goes from having to verify that any ladder trucks responding have a working aerial ladder (SOP in Detroit), to no thermal imaging camera available on the fireground, to no EMS unit available, to a chief being told he can’t use a police car to transport the woman firefighters pulled from the home and are doing CPR on.
But despite the obstacles, the news story below indicates Detroit firefighters saved a life on Hague Street yesterday and a family is grateful.
(Note: I’ve added additional Tweets since the original post. Scroll down.)
One of my big frustrations is watching public safety agencies failing to use the modern tools available to communicate with the public and press when the big one happens. Often when it hits the fan, agencies fail to provide the basic information that they can easily and instantly provide through social media. I’ve had tons of excuses why this happens. Let me show you an agency that has figured out how to get it done.
Just a little more than an hour prior to this being posted, a police officer in Howard County, Maryland was shot. I do not know the condition of the officer, but he or she is in our thoughts. A search for the suspect is underway. Howard County Police are about to have the first press conference at the scene, but look at the information they have been able to share through Twitter even before there was a confirmed shooting. This keeps the public informed and keeps your PIO(s) getting information out to the the press as a group rather than wasting prescious time on the phone during a breaking situation.
All times are approximate.
4:28 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews
Unconfirmed information about what is happening in the 9500 block of Washington Blvd. AS SOON as ANY info is confirmed, will update.
4:35 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews
Reports of possible shots fired in area. Update expected from scene momentarily.
4:44 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews
One officer shot. being transported to shock trauma. PIO is en route.
4:45 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews
Officers responded to the 9500 block of Washington Boulevard for report of man with a gun. One officer shot in exchange. Suspect at large.
4:46 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews
Police searching for suspect. No additional information about suspect available yet.
5:00 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews
MEDIA: Updates re: the incident in the 9500 block of Washington Boulevard will be provided via Twitter and FB ONLY. PIO enroute to scene.
5:24 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews
MEDIA: Staging area; Parking lot of fire stn @RT.1 & Corridor Road. Take 32 to Rt. 1 S to Corridor Road. ***Press briefing at 5:45***.
A 29-year-old woman was lucky to be alive Sunday after her vehicle went under some railroad crossing arms and collided with not one, but two trains.
Woods Cross Detective Adam Osoro said officers were responding to a domestic violence call near 2300 South and Redwood Road about 8:20 a.m. when they spotted a vehicle believed to have been involved and tried to stop it.
Osoro said the driver fled at speeds topping 100 mph eastbound on 2600 South.
When the woman didn’t pull over for police, a brief chase began. Osoro said it was during the chase the woman and the trains collided.
“There was already a southbound train going across 2600 south, and she hit that train while it was crossing,”Osoro said. “While officers were trying to get her out of her car, a second southbound train hit her vehicle.”
Despite the impacts, the woman suffered only a broken arm.
What really has me concerned for our society is not the story itself. It’s the outrage. I know I am not a medical professional but even I can see from the comments that many of those writing have contracted COD, Compulsive Outrage Disorder. The main symptom of COD is a severe case of blindness, often permanent. It isn’t just afflicting the fire service. The public in general is greatly at risk because of COD. It has spread so quickly, some people, including me, think it is threatening our way of life.
Compulsive Outrage Disorder was first identified many years ago by St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan. Essentially what happens with COD is you read or hear a headline or an abstract of a story that seems to go against your own beliefs of right and wrong or contradicts the political party or agenda you most identify with. Without even reading the whole story or trying to understand arguments of those who disagree with you, COD sufferers will immediately vent their anger on Facebook, Twitter and Internet forums. This often leaves the COD sufferer blind to the real facts. The facts become much less important than the emotion.
The article was posted by the website Call the Cops. Their banner provides a major clue about the “news” published on the site: “America’s 27th most trusted source of public safety news”. If that doesn’t tip you off, click the “About Us” button to find the following:
This site is a satire of the current state of Law Enforcement, Fire Fighting and Emergency Medical work. Stories posted here are not real and you should not assume them to have any basis in any real fact.
Just about every week someone (or many someones) in fire or EMS sends me a story from Call the Cops that has them outraged.
Even without COD, the problem we face in today’s society is that it is harder and harder to be a good consumer of news. It requires us to be more and more skeptical of what we read and to check further into the real facts. It doesn’t take a satirical website to mislead us. Mainstream news organizations, in the rush to compete with social media when there is breaking news, are getting the major facts wrong in some very important stories. In addition, what used to be labeled “commentary” by news organizations is often disguised as “reporting”, particularly on a number of cable news channels.
But it is almost impossible to be a savvy news consumer when you suffer from the blindness that comes from COD. And it is that blindness that may be causing the most danger to our way of life. Our political leaders and political parties count on that blindness to spread their platforms. It is the principle that most political advertising is based on. It is how they sway the electorate.
It’s not about the facts. It’s all about emotion. This is why the focus is not on the issues that are most important, but on the demonization of individuals. It is a big part of the political polarization of our country. And it is probably not a stretch to say COD blindness is one of the reasons that much of the Federal Government has had a “closed for business sign” on it for almost two weeks.
More so than the general public, those in public safety should have a built-in immunity to COD. You are the ones who are best at checking your emotions at the door when facing some of the most stressful situations anyone has to face. If only there was a way to take that skill and apply it across the board so we can always deal with facts and not the emotion.
My suggestion is to follow the example set long ago by a once well-known member of the public safety family. He wasn’t a firefighter. He was a cop. His name was Sgt. Joe Friday and his mantra was, “Just the facts ma’am”.
Above is security camera video and below is a bystander’s pre-arrival video of an explosion at a Sydney, Australia supermarket. The blast occurred after gasoline was poured inside the front door and set on fire yesterday morning. The two most seriously injured are the accused arsonist and a man who lived in a second floor apartment.
Police will allege in court that a man caught on CCTV skulking around the front of a Wentworthville shop moments before it spectacularly exploded on Tuesday morning was the shop’s owner, Mr Jomaa, a person eight people risked their lives to save.
The 36-year-old, who broke both his legs, injured his pelvis and neck, and received burns to his face in the explosion, was refused bail at a bedside hearing at Royal North Shore Hospital yesterday.
Police will allege Mr Jomaa bought 10 litres of petrol in a red plastic jerry can from the BP Service Station across the road from his shop at 4.10pm on Monday.
CCTV footage seized from the neighbouring Wentworthville Hotel shows a man carrying a jerry can of petrol into the building then walking around the corner as a police car passes by.
Soon after, the building explodes and collapses, and police and firefighters heroically run in to drag Mr Jomaa free from rubble and the flames. Specialist forensic sniffer dogs later allegedly detected the remnants of petrol in the smouldering rubble on Station St.
Syris Persia, who was asleep upstairs when the building exploded, remained in Westmead Hospital with back injures yesterday. The CCTV footage shows him climbing out of the smoke and rubble to sit, stunned, on the footpath. Eight police officers were treated for treatment for burns and smoke inhalation, while another officer was treated for severe smoke inhalation.
All were later discharged.
Police Association president Scott Weber said the officers, who repeatedly went into the fire only to be turned back by searing flames, were true heroes.
“These are true police heroes, we are proud of them,” Mr Weber said.
A car has crashed Tuesday afternoon into the main firehouse in Lenoir on Harper Avenue.
Police said that the car hit the fire station following a chase. Officials said the car ran through the glass bay door of the fire station and hit a fire truck.
Police said they were trying to arrest Ryan Jeffries and Vanessa Snyder when they led police on the chase.
Jeffries was driving when they slammed into the fire station and is in critical condition, police said. No one was injured in the fire station. The impact was so hard the convertible actually knocked the 30,000-pound fire truck several feet.
“We saw it coming toward the building and I told everyone. I said some poor choice of terminology and we jumped into the ready room. Still some of the wreckage debris still came into the ready room,” said Deputy Chief Ken Hair with Lenoir Fire.
The high-speed pursuit started about two and half miles away along Hickory Boulevard near the intersection of McClain Drive. Police say it was part of an undercover drug operation in Lenoir when the driver took off. This mother saw the convertible go airborne before it hit the building.
A six-week police investigation into fires aboard three D.C. ambulances in August — two on the same day — found no evidence that they were intentionally set, according to the results of an investigation that is to be made public Wednesday.
The findings by police largely support the conclusions reached by fire investigators within days of the incidents — that the fires were most likely accidents caused by a variety of engine problems, such as fuel leaks or electrical malfunctions. The precise causes were not determined.
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul A. Quander Jr. ordered the police review to ensure that “nothing untoward” had occurred in what he described as an unusual number of fires in a a short time.
Firehouse Grants is our newest site sponsor at STATter911.com. David Schwartz has a wealth of experience in helping navigate what has become a very important part of running a public safety agency. I asked David to describe the work of Firehouse Grants:
Firehouse Grants specializes in preparing grant applications for fire departments, EMS departments, and other public safety agencies. We have substantial experience in successfully obtaining funds from FEMA Fire Act programs including AFG, SAFER, and FP&S. Our success is built upon our in-depth knowledge of the grant programs, our expertise in technical writing, and our understanding of fire and emergency services. Since we are all first responders, you can count on our team to be in command of your grant funding needs.
The Lawrenceburg Fire Department rescued five people from a burning apartment complex Wednesday morning, including three children.
The fire started just after 2 a.m. at Oak Grove Apartments, located at 405 Oak Street. Firefighters could see flames when they pulled up. They had heard some residents were trapped in multiple units.
Firefighters used ground ladders to get two people out. While they were doing this, a second team moved up the stairs and saved three children, two of which were dropped from a balcony to police officers below.
In video recorded on the scene, you see firefighters get to one of the families. About 45 seconds in, you hear an emergency worker say ”Drop him! Drop the kid!”
The child, wearing only a diaper, is dropped a short ways. The officer quickly catches the child.
The Asbury Park Press and WNBC-TV are both looking at the decisions made in the early stages of the fire that took out four blocks of the boardwalk in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, New Jersey. The news reports show that it was Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd and Seaside Park Police Chief Francis Larkin who made the decision to start alerting many neighboring fire companies. The article in the Asbury Park Press by Kristi Funderburk talks to the police chiefs and Seaside Park Fire Chief David Hansen. It is the most extensive look so far at the initial operations. I encourage you to read it in its entirety. Here are some excerpts:
“This thing’s going, and we don’t need to lose everything,” (che said over the communication line.
What started as a fire at a single building on a boardwalk, where firefighters have responded to a string of major and minor incidents, had all the right ingredients to flare into a disaster, but Seaside Park Fire Chief David Hansen said that’s always easier to identify later.
“Everybody wants to be the Monday morning quarterback. Everybody,” he said this week. “They were saying this was going to be a boardwalk fire. They should’ve known this. They should’ve done that. At that point, it was one structure.”
It’s 2:20 p.m. on Sept. 12: Assistant Chief Wes Gorman of Seaside Park Fire Station 45 is in command for a potential fire on the boardwalk.
He asks for Jersey Central Power & Light minutes into his arrival.
“Do you want just your station or full response?” the dispatcher asks.
“Just Station 45 at this time,” he says.
This wasn’t a case of underestimating a fire, Hansen said this week, despite some criticisms he has heard. That was three minutes into the incident, and Gorman was still looking for the flames that had been reported.
2:25 p.m. and Seaside Heights’ Station 44 is called to the scene.
“We’re going to need more units, more firefighters,” Boyd tells his police dispatcher at 2:33 p.m. “I don’t want to overstep boundaries but it’s rolling. I’m here with the Chief of Police of Seaside Park and myself. I think you better start hitting out.”
A minute passes.
“Call mutual aid all the way around,” Boyd says. “I just heard Seaside Park call it. I’m going to make the call. We’ve got big problems. I’m going to call the county prosecutor now and advise.”
Seaside Park Police Chief Francis Larkin said this week the two police chiefs jointly made a decision to make that call.
“We had a fully involved fire. We saw the seriousness of it,” he said.
Hansen, who took command within the first 10 minutes, said this week he understands the point of view.
The fire was growing, and strong winds — the only aspect of Thursday’s situation that Hansen thinks might have lessened the ultimate devastation, if they hadn’t kicked up — are sending the fire toward Boyd’s town’s newly rebuilt boardwalk.
But Hansen also stood by Gorman’s approach.
Firefighters, who have the responsibility of calling upon fire resources, have to find the source of the fire so command knows where to direct new units when they respond, Hansen said. They also must control the units coming in because once you put a hose on the street, the trucks can’t move, he said.
“It was all part of a chess game to continually allocate resources on the scene while trying to organize new resources coming it,” Hansen said.
There are some follow-up stories in the local press that focus on emergency operations during Monday’s shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard. The story above from WUSA9.com is about the work of the United States Park Police Eagle helicopter crew that handled both EMS and law enforcement roles. You can read more from reporter Kristin Fisher here.
Below, reporter Ken Molestina questions the readiness of the DC Fire & EMS Department. Specifically Molestina looks at the staffing on Monday and the downgrading of nine ALS units to BLS due to a paramedic shortage. Here is what Molestina discovered:
The DC firefighters Union tells WUSA 9 that a total of 9 emergency response units were downgraded from advanced life support status to basic life support during the Navy Yard shooting.
In others words there was no paramedic on board those units. That means the personnel on board could only provide minimal emergency care on the scene.
Medic units 7,8, 27, 30, 19, 24, 31 were all downgraded. Paramedic engines 20, 31were also downgraded and didn’t have a paramedic on board.
It’s unclear how many of those units responded to the scene of the massacre. DC Fire & EMS didn’t return any of WUSA 9′s phone calls or e-mails.
I wasn’t sure I was going to again post my personal account of September 11, 2001 until a few days ago. That’s when I came across a news article on the web talking about the terrorist attacks of 12-years-ago. It mentioned that one of those attacks occurred “on a plane that crash-landed in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania”. Obviously the details of that enormously tragic day are already muddy in the minds of many, even those whose job it is to keep others informed about such events. It was a good reminder why those who witnessed this history in New York, Arlington, Virginia and Shanksville, Pennsylvania need to keep telling their stories.
Mine is just the story of an observer who had a close-up view for a little while at the Pentagon. There are much more important stories out there about amazingly heroic efforts to save lives and to get people out of harm’s way. Please make sure you, your children and grandchildren know these stories.
The account below came about because in October of 2001 I was asked by journalist Allison Gilbert to contribute my experiences at the Pentagon to a book called Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11. While I knew I was only one of many TV and radio reporters and anchors who would be contributing to the book, and Allison would only be using a couple of blurbs, it was an opportunity for me to write a chronology of the day and put a few thoughts down. It concludes with a postscript written 40-days after the attacks that looks at the public’s perception of firefighters following the enormous sacrifice made by 343 members of the Fire Department of New York.
September 11, 2001
8:52 AM: Spending time with my son is always the best way to start the day. Sam, almost two years old, is eating his breakfast. I bring my toast into the den to sit with him. The television is on so we can do what we usually do in the morning, watch my wife, Hillary Howard, Sam’s mom, do the weather on WUSA-TV. Instead of the “Early Show” ending to make way for local news, I see the open to a “CBS News Special Report”. I turn the sound up, but don’t need Bryant Gumbel to tell me that something is very wrong at one of the World Trade Center towers. The thick, black smoke pouring out of many windows and from the roof makes it very clear this is a major disaster in the making. Gumbel says there is a report that a plane hit the building. Those words send me out of the room and upstairs to quickly finish getting dressed.
9:03 AM: I occasionally glance at the TV upstairs. A little slow to comprehend some of what it going on, it dawns on me that this appears to be a crystal clear day. I am starting to wonder if this plane crash is really an accident. As I think about calling the newsroom to suggest we might be dealing with a terrorist attack of some sort, any doubts I had are immediately erased. My head quickly turns toward to the TV as I hear a woman say to Byrant Gumbel, “Oh, there is another one! Another plane just hit! Oh, my gosh! Another plane has hit! Another building! Flew right into the middle of it. Explosion.”
It hit me instantly that our lives have suddenly changed.
9:05 AM: On the phone to the station, I talk to Dave Roberts, our news director. I am convinced that if the people who did this were organized enough to quickly hit two targets like the World Trade Center towers, Washington would be next. We decide I will head into town to start looking around for increased security measures and be ready if another attack occurs.
9:10 AM: No time for our normal goodbye ritual. I give Sam a quick kiss and hug. Sam says something about “Jay Jay”. “Jay Jay the Jet Plane”, Sam’s favorite TV show, comes on soon. Not knowing what he may have already seen on TV this morning, I tell him calmly that “Jay Jay” is having a bad day. With the uncertainty of what was ahead, I didn’t want to leave Sam. I knew, though, he was in good hands with Glenda, the woman who takes care of him while we are at work.
9:15 AM: Realizing my good friend, Dan Patrick, our night assignment manager, is probably asleep and has no idea what is going on, I wake him. Dan doesn’t believe me when I describe the events of the morning along with my concern that Washington is next. Certainly I would have thought this was one of his sick practical jokes if the situation were reversed. Hanging up, I’m not sure he is convinced that this is for real.
9:25 AM: My first stop, the State Department. I circle the block and notice some extra officers being deployed around the building. Other street activity appears normal. Checking out the Pentagon never enters my mind.
9:38 AM: East bound on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House, I turn north on 17th Street. At that moment the scanners in my car come alive. On numerous police and fire radio frequencies, people are yelling that a plane hit the Pentagon. Making a fast U-turn, I see the smoke rising across the Potomac River. I get the assignment desk on the phone. It’s a bad connection. I yell into the phone, “Pentagon, Pentagon, Pentagon. Send everyone to the Pentagon. I should be there soon.”
I carefully bust a few lights on southbound 17th Street. Making a right turn, traffic is light on westbound Independence Avenue.
9:41 AM: Anchors Mike Buchanan and Andrea Roane break into CBS coverage to report that there has been an apparent plane crash at the Pentagon. They have distant, but clear pictures of the Pentagon ablaze from our rooftop camera in Rosslyn.
9:43 AM: There is also little traffic heading outbound on the Memorial Bridge. Across the river, I now have a distant view of the Pentagon. The very black smoke I am seeing is surely caused by the fuel, now burning, that was in the plane’s tanks. I call the control room to try and get on the air, but the call cuts out as the anchors lead to me.
9:44 AM: Somehow I end up on southbound Washington Boulevard directly in front of the Pentagon helipad. That is good news, but for the moment it does me no good because there is wireless gridlock. I am unable to get a phone call out.
9:46 AM: I have my home video camera out and on the tripod, rolling off a few shots. The phone still isn’t working.
9:48 AM: Walking down Washington Boulevard is Heather Cabot a recently hired reporter for WUSA. She tells me her phone isn’t getting out either. I ask her to take over my camera and I will work on trying to get a phone call to the station. Heather tells me she is with photographer Mike Trammel. I look back to see Trammel and put my camera away.
9:52 AM: Heather’s phone finally gets through. I describe the scene as firefighters from Ft. Meyer and National Airport put the first water and foam on the burning Pentagon. Some people are looking at the sky, making sure another plane isn’t approaching. I suggest to Heather, that it is probably a good idea for us to do the same. Amazingly traffic on northbound Washington Boulevard has not been blocked and drivers are just whizzing by the burning Pentagon as they head to work.
A familiar red van pulls a few feet past us. It is one of our microwave vans with Bruce Bookholtz at the wheel. I am a bit amazed that, with no communication, we all end up at the same spot.
We hear a number of small pops and explosions. I am guessing those are tires popping from the vehicles that were parked against the building and are now burning, or possibly some small canisters exploding. Among the vehicles on fire is the new crash/rescue fire truck, belonging to the Ft. Meyer Fire Department. It is stationed at the Pentagon and is routinely on hand for helicopter landings and takeoffs, in case of an emergency. It is a fire truck designed for just this rare event, a plane crash, and it can’t be used.
9:55 AM: Heather tells me to look down on the street around us. I was so intent on watching the burning Pentagon, I hadn’t noticed there are what appear to be small pieces from the airplane at my feet. I had already seen the large amount of debris scattered on the Pentagon lawn, but so far no piece is large enough to be easily identified as an airplane part.
9:57 AM: Our first live video is on the air. You see flames crawling up the familiar face of the Pentagon along with some of the first victims as they are carried away from the building.
9:59 AM: I am on the air with Michael Kelly, an eyewitness Heather pulled out of the crowd. Kelly was driving on nearby I-395 when he saw the plane take aim on the Pentagon.
10:00 AM: Anchor Andrea Roane interrupts me, “Dave, Dave, Dave. We want to break in, because we want to go back to New York, where Dan Rather is anchoring our coverage, where one of the towers at the World Trade Center has collapsed”.
These words stop me in my tracks for a moment. I have no TV monitor to see this for myself. Just Andrea’s words. It doesn’t compute in my brain. I had been a firefighter. I had studied high-rise firefighting. There had been a number of major high-rise fires throughout the world that burned for many hours. To my knowledge there had never been a catastrophic collapse of an entire building. This was just one of many things happening today that no one has ever had to deal with.
Knowing how aggressive New York firefighters are, I realize there must be scores of dead rescuers. The last pictures I saw out of New York were from an hour ago. Even then it was pretty apparent, from the amount of fire, that anyone at the impact points and above had little chance of survival.
10:05 AM: They come back to me for our first interview with someone who was in the Pentagon at the time of the attack. Two or three men on stretchers pass by us. It is our first close-up look at the injured and they are severely, if not critically burned over a good portion of their bodies. These victims are flown out by helicopter to a hospital burn unit. Their lives will never be the same.
10:10 AM: A Virginia State Trooper starts moving everyone back. There is concern another plane is coming toward the Pentagon. We don’t move.
10:15 AM: As they come back to our live shot, five floors suddenly collapse around the jet’s impact point. There is now a large gash on the west side of the Pentagon.
10:18 AM: People start running away from the Pentagon. This time, FBI agents are telling us another plane is just minutes out. They order us to move immediately. I am able to get in a few quick words, attempting to explain to Mike and Andrea what is happening, before the transmitter is turned off and the live truck’s mast starts coming down.
10:28 AM: We move just a short distance off Washington Boulevard and down the ramp to Columbia Pike. As Bruce tries to re-establish a signal, I hear through my earpiece that the second tower in New York has collapsed. I just can’t imagine what it going on in Manhattan. The death toll must be staggering. I recall my wife once telling me her grandfather hauled truckloads of steel used to build the Twin Towers. Now those buildings don’t exist.
10:32 AM: We are again feeding live pictures of the burning Pentagon.
10:36 AM: Witnesses are giving different descriptions of the plane that hit the building. Some say it is an American Airlines 757, while others believe it was a business jet. The fire is still burning out of control.
10:38 AM: Mike Buchanan asks me if I have seen any large pieces of an airplane at the scene. As I answer this question, he interrupts me,“Hold on Dave. Hold on just a second. We’ve got a bulletin from AP. A large plane has just crashed in Western Pennsylvania.”
Mike also reads an AP report about a car bomb going off at the State Department. We are just across the river from State and we didn’t hear an explosion.
10:42 AM: An F-16 makes a low pass near the Pentagon. That, along with the plane crash in Pennsylvania, makes me think there was something to the threats that forced us move away from the building. I notice a large group of people huddled under the Washington Boulevard overpass.
10:52 AM: A Lt. Colonel with Air Force Public Affairs passes our location. We snag him. He urges people to keep far away from the Pentagon. If you have loved ones you can’t account for, he asks that you not come to the Pentagon. He has no idea of the number of dead or injured. Not much in the way of information, but it is the first official word.
WUSA anchorman Gordon Peterson, who was originally sent to nearby National Airport for a flight to New York, arrives at our location.
10:54 AM: Mike and Andrea confirm there was no car bomb at the State Department. A little bit of good news.
11:06 AM: Gordon interviews Mike Walter, a television reporter for “USA Today Live”. Mike, on his way to work in Rosslyn, witnessed the Pentagon crash and offers the most vivid description so far.
11:10 AM: We are again ordered to move our live truck further away from the Pentagon.
11:31 AM: Our shot is back up. This time, from a hill in front of the Quick Mart. This Citgo, looks like a normal service station, but it is exclusively for use by military personnel.
11:39 AM: The fire is spreading. Suddenly there are flames showing in a number of windows far from the point of impact.
People again start moving quickly from the Pentagon. There is more talk of another hijacked plane heading our way.
11:52 AM: Again, more people rush from the Pentagon.
12:16 PM: I listen to Dan Patrick, with a phone report, describe his attempts to get from Northern Virginia to the TV station in Northwest Washington. Dan says he had to show identification to a police officer and explain his business in the city. Only then was he allowed to cross Key Bridge into Georgetown. The city is in lockdown.
12:18 PM: Gordon notices an ambulance convoy from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad pull up along Columbia Pike. It was a repeat of a scene I had witnessed, just on the other side of the Pentagon, almost 20 years earlier. The same Maryland squad sent a similar contingent after Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the 14th Street Bridge on January 13th, 1982.
12:20 PM: If I am not convinced how much turmoil there is in the country from these attacks, this does it. Mike and Andrea announce Disney World is being evacuated.
12:28 PM: A Navy public affairs officer officially confirms what has been painfully obvious. Besides the dead on the aircraft, Pentagon workers are dead inside the building. He has no idea how many people didn’t get out.
12:32 PM: Talking on the air with Mike and Andrea, it still isn’t clear which of the four hijacked jets smashed into the Pentagon. Right now, American Airlines believes the hijacked flight from Dulles crashed into one of the towers in New York.
Police move everyone, including the news media, off the hillside. Bruce pulls the truck around to the other end of the service station lot. This fourth move winds up being our last. It becomes home for the better part of two weeks.
1:19 PM: The first official briefing from the Pentagon. Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, announces that this was “a full assault on the United States of America”. The admiral says there was no way to prepare for an attack like this. I am shaking my head at the fact that the spokesman for the military headquarters of the United States of America is forced to talk to the world from a service station parking lot.
1:30 PM: CNN Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre joins me on the air for a few minutes. Our first time working together was at WTOP radio, 20 years ago, covering the Air Florida plane crash. Jamie says they always anticipated a terrorist attack at the Pentagon, but figured it would be on the other side of the building where all the top brass is located.
Off camera, Jamie tells me that just yesterday his son’s class in middle school had a discussion about the bombing in Oklahoma City. Jamie’s son told the class he always worries about his dad being hurt by an attack like this, because his dad works at the Pentagon. Jamie tried getting word to the school to let his son know he was okay.
1:50 PM: Andrea announces that the Urban Search and Rescue Team from Fairfax County, known as Virginia Task Force 1, has been activated and will be at the Pentagon shortly.
American Airlines now says they aren’t sure where Flight 77 ended up.
WUSA-TV’s Mike Trammel’s shot of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (third from the right) helping carry one of the injured from the Pentagon to a waiting ambulance.
1:56 PM: Admiral Quigley sets the tone for his second briefing by saying “you are going to have a lot more questions than I have answers.” Quigley doesn’t have an answer to the one question all of us are asking. He can only say, “we know there are casualties.”
He tells us Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was among the Pentagon workers hurrying from the building after the explosion. Rumsfeld helped the injured for about 15 minutes, getting several people onto stretchers. Then he went back inside to the National Military Command Center. The command center is reportedly smoky, but not damaged. (NOTE: Approaching the one-year anniversary of the attack, CNN’s Vito Maggiolo contacted me after looking at the raw video from September 11 shot by WUSA-TV photojournalist Mike Trammel. While many people had viewed that video, and all of it played out in front my own eyes, Vito was the only person to notice that one of the men carrying a stretcher with one of the first victims removed from the Pentagon was Secretary Rumsfeld.)
2:10 PM: Virginia Task Force 1 arrives. Normally Fairfax County’s Urban Search and Rescue Team is sent to some far off land by way of military transport. This time it was just a quick drive down Interstate 66 to the county on its eastern border.
2:23 PM: WUSA Photographer Greg Guise is able to provide some details surrounding the hijacked jet that went down in Pennsylvania. Greg grew up a few miles from the crash site and has business interests in the community. Greg relays a description of the scene from a radio engineer friend in Somerset County.
2:43 PM: For the past few hours we’ve seen no ambulances leave the area with lights and siren. We’re pretty certain that anyone alive is already being treated. Now reporter Jennifer Ryan, at the Virginia Hospital Center, confirms no more victims are expected from the Pentagon.
2:49 PM: Mike and Andrea report it’s now fairly clear the plane wreckage at the Pentagon is from American Airlines Flight 77 out of Dulles.
2:55 PM: Rear Admiral Stephen Pietropaoli, U.S. Navy Office of Information, tells us that in the recently renovated wedge of the Pentagon, where the attack occurred, there is blast resistant glass on the windows. In the days to come we hear from many who believe that this very expensive glass saved lives.
3:53 PM: Now briefing us at the Citgo press center, Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clark and Defense Protective Service Chief John Jester. Jester tells us the impact from the jet extends through to the C ring, the middle of the 5 rings of the Pentagon. All we see from our location, is that a portion of the E ring, the outer most portion of the Pentagon, has crumbled.
Clark admits she can’t confirm that all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are accounted for. That news is a bit unsettling. We also hear about a Navy captain who burned his hands rescuing others. Clark says that man is already back from the hospital and wants to be put to work again, helping at the Pentagon.
4:12 PM: Rumors have been spreading that the U.S. military brought down the hijacked plane in Pennsylvania. Rear Admiral Craig Quigley says, “That didn’t happen. I cannot explain to you the cause of the crash of the airplane near Pittsburgh, but it was not engagement by a U.S. fighter aircraft.”
The Pentagon now confirms all the Joint Chiefs are accounted for.
4:54 PM: The second Urban Search and Rescue Team arrives. This one is from Montgomery County, Maryland.
5:04 PM: I see International Association of Firefighters General President, Harold Schaitberger and his press person, George Burke arrive at the Citgo. I grab Harold for a live interview. Harold has been in close touch with his people in New York. We learn for the first time that more than 200 New York firefighters probably perished when the towers collapsed. He calls firefighters “our domestic soldiers”. Schaitberger says the civilian death toll will be in the thousands. Off camera he lets me know that much of FDNY’s command staff was lost, including the Chief of the Department and the head of Special Operations.
5:36 PM: Harold Schaitberger joins me again with the story of two Ft. Meyer firefighters who were at the Pentagon when the crash occurred. They were standing near the fire truck we saw burning this morning. Both men were knocked down and injured by the force of the crash. They helped rescue a group of people through some of the office windows, before the firefighters themselves were hospitalized.
6:42 PM: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield briefs the press. For the first time since the crash, the press conference is held inside the Pentagon. I watch it from our van. Pushed for a body count, Rumsfeld says, “It will not be a few”. The Pentagon “will be in business tomorrow”.
8:45 PM: New information has been slow in coming, but marching up Columbia Pike with the television lights reflecting off his orange vest is a member of Montgomery County’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team. Captain Scott Graham gives us the first solid information about the fire and rescue efforts. Scott becomes a lifeline for information in the days to come.
Despite the large fire still burning, Graham says the USAR team members are always optimistic about finding people alive. He says, “We have to look at it as a rescue effort for us. We have to look at it as a very unstable building. And our job, pretty much, is to take the name of the Pentagon off the outside of it and go in and rescue the people that are in there”.
9:52 PM: Another familiar face shows up at the Citgo. Ed Plaugher is the fire chief of Arlington County. The Pentagon is in Arlington County, Virginia and Chief Plaugher is the man in charge of the fire and rescue operations. None of the other reporters nearby seem to know who Plaugher is, or if they do, they don’t care. Ed joins me live at 10:00 PM with the first solid news about the loss of life at the Pentagon. There are no figures as of yet, but the Pentagon has given him a range to work with. Plaugher says it is believed that anywhere from 100 to 800 people work in the area where the impact occurred. While that is fairly large range, it lets us know that the death toll will likely be in the hundreds at the Pentagon, as compared to the thousands presumed dead in New York. Plaugher’s guess is, when it is over, the number at the Pentagon will be in the low hundreds.
Plaugher later receives some heat when his statements are taken out of context. Some news reports claim Plaugher estimated the death toll at 800. Days later we learn that 125 were killed on the ground and 64 perished aboard Flight 77.
On another topic Chief Plaugher says, “To be honest with you, we always were afraid of the Pentagon as being a target, but never in our wildest dreams to this extent. I am still in disbelief.”
11:03 PM: Fire has broken through in at least four places along the Pentagon roof. Chief Plaugher says aggressive interior firefighting operations will cease until daylight. But, crews overnight, will continue to pour in water from the outside to keep the fire from spreading further.
I relay a phone conversation with Scott Graham a few minutes before our 11:00 PM newscast. Scott and most of the USAR team members from Montgomery and Fairfax Counties worked very closely with Deputy Chief Ray Downey from the Fire Department of New York. Downey, commander of FDNY’s Special Operations, is unaccounted for after the towers collapsed. Scott says Downey commanded all the USAR teams in Oklahoma City after the bombing there. He says Downey wrote the book on urban search and rescue. Skills Downey taught will be utilized in New York and Arlington by hundreds of rescuers in the difficult days to come. His voice cracking, Scott tells me, “We lost a damn good man”.
We lost a lot of good men and women today.
October 27, 2001
11:15 PM: As I am looking back at September 11th, I have just spent a week covering the deaths of two Washington, D.C. postal workers, from inhalation anthrax. Others are hospitalized because of anthrax that was sent through the U.S. Mail. No one knows how this story will play out.
There is a lot of uncertainty since September 11th. Our war efforts, our security in public places, our ability to travel safely by air, our economic future. Like all parents, Hillary and I worry over what this will mean for our young son.
This much I’m sure of. Through the thick smoke hanging over New York and Washington, it became clear that some remarkable people walk among us.
Some are just ordinary citizens who put other people’s lives ahead of their own. Staying behind, trying to make sure everyone gets out.
Others are paid to protect us. But I don’t think anyone believes for a moment that a police officer, paramedic or firefighter’s modest salary is enough to encourage someone to walk into the places that these men and women did on September 11th. It takes much more than money. It takes heart, and courage, and a belief you can make a difference.
I know firefighters the best. Six years in a busy volunteer company during my youth, and almost 30 years making the fire service my beat as a reporter, have given me some perspective.
In many big cities, including our Nation’s Capital, the fire departments have long taken a back seat when it comes to funding. Citizens who can tell you how many times the police patrol car comes down their block, or how many officers are walking the beat, have no idea how many firefighters are on duty in the neighborhood fire station. Political leaders know this to be true and through the years have made drastic cuts in fire protection, often without protest from the public.
Through the years, I have reported many stories where citizens and firefighters have died because of these cuts. Just last week an understaffed ladder company became an issue in Houston, Texas, after a fire captain died in a high-rise apartment building fire.
Firefighters are can-do people. Their skills at making things work under adversity often hides from the public the shortcomings in their staffing, equipment and facilities.
Some of the good that has come from the sacrifices made by the 343 members of FDNY who died on September 11th, is the recognition, by the public, of what firefighters really do.
A recent trip to Arlington County Fire Station #2 brought this home. The firehouse is covered with cards and letters from all over the world. Many are from school children, with drawings of the firefighters in action at the Pentagon and World Trade Center. All say thanks.
Veterans of more than 20 years in the fire service are astounded by the reaction these days as they drive through local streets. People stop and wave. When the firefighters walk into a building in uniform, they are applauded.
On October 7th, I was at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Just two hours before military action in Afghanistan began, President Bush told the stories of some of the 99 domestic soldiers who died in the line of duty in the United States last year. I watched as spouses and children received a flag and a red rose, and heard a bell toll in honor of their loved one, our hero.
I have forced myself on most days since September 11th to read the New York Post, Daily News and Times and the accounts of the daily funerals of New York firefighters. It is difficult to read about the pain their wives and children are going through. It is the least, though, that we can do. It is important to remember this unbelievable sacrifice.
My hope is that people all over the United States are paying very close attention to these same stories of heroism. My hope is that they don’t forget these stories when someone is trying to save a little money and close down their local firehouse.
Right now when Sam sees a fire truck he says, “Evan”. “Revvin’ Evan” is the animated fire engine on that “Jay Jay the Jet Plane” cartoon show he loves. When Sam is old enough, I will make sure he knows a lot more about firefighters. I will make sure Sam understands exactly who those people were climbing up the clogged, smoke filled, stairways, as he sat in his high chair, watching the first pictures transmitted from New York, at 8:52 AM, on September 11th, 2001.
Video from Ajay Jaafar as a police boat from the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC hit two boats docked at Georgetown’s Washington Harbor on Saturday. Luckily no one was on the two docked boats and there were no injuries.
A District of Columbia police boat struck at least two vessels on the Potomac River near Georgetown, causing one smaller boat to partially sink.
Witnesses say a harbor patrol boat was making a U-turn Saturday evening about 7 p.m. when it struck at least two other boats docked at the Georgetown waterfront. No one was hurt in the crash.
One boat was flipped on its side and was left partially underwater along the waterfront overnight.
The U.S. Coast Guard and D.C. police responded to the scene and have launched an investigation. The investigation continues to determine what caused the crash.
Video from firelensman of the Los Angeles Fire Department dealing with a fire early Wednesday morning at 14660 Arminta Street in Panorama City. Here’s some of the description with the video:
L.A. Firefighters first on scene had moderate smoke showing from the large 100 by 300 ft. one story commercial. As the fire quickly progressed with flames shooting through the roof, Firefighters went into defensive mode, knocking down the fire with wagon batteries, ladder pipes, portable monitors and numerous handlines. The building was a total loss, housing the companies National Displays and Arrow Chrome Plating. Hazardous Material crews remained on scene through the morning due to the chemicals involved.
More than four hours after the flames were extinguished, LAFD crews were summoned to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Valley Bureau Headquarters, four-tenths of a mile northeast of the blaze, where eleven civilian and uniformed workers – who had not responded to the scene, expressed subjective respiratory irritation and general malaise.
One worker was taken to the hospital by colleagues prior to the Fire Department’s arrival. Following a comprehensive medical evaluation by LAFD Paramedics, nine of the remaining ten patients declined further medical treatment or transportation by Fire Department ambulance. One woman was taken by LAFD Paramedics to a nearby hospital for further evaluation. Her condition was not specified.
It’s pretty obvious this is not the kind of headline you want from a charity event. DelmarvaNow.com reports it was a wild scene Saturday night at the Seaford Fire Department Burn Camp Softball Tournament in Seaford, Delaware. According to the paper, Dagsboro Fire Department Captain Brandon Blades and his wife Cameo “were the aggressors” and are the only two charged after the fight broke out. He has been accused of disorderly conduct and had a blood alcohol level of 0.151. She has also been charged with disorderly conduct and third-degree assault.
The assault stems from witness accounts that she ran accross the field and struck a man from behind. The man has been identified by the paper as Brad Speakman, the Port Penn fire chief. Speakman suffered a broken nose and may require plastic surgery.
Besides all the obvious concerns of something like this happening, this is a reminder that there is no such thing as “local news” anymore. Any news can now be viewed worldwide. This incident even became fodder for the animators at TOMO News (below).
The fight broke out near one dugout at about 6 p.m. Saturday at the Jay’s Nest sports complex on North Market Street, site of the annual charity event in Sussex County.
“We’re not comfortable having this kind of behavior at our event,” (Seaford FD representative Ron) Marvel said of the fight.
At least four officers arrived to find several people fighting and arguing, the arrest affidavit said. Witnesses told officers Brandon Blades had instigated the fight and his wife punched Speakman. One witness told officers someone also put Cameo Blades in a headlock and threw her to the ground.
While officers conducted interviews, the crowd became disorderly, so Blades and his wife were taken to the police station, the affidavit said.
We have shown you previously that the police department in Wellesley, Massachusetts produces regular video reports of public safety activities around town. Sometimes the officers report on a fire, It is very nice of them to think of the firefighters. But there is a price to pay when its a cop production. I had to chuckle when I listened to the narration of the video shot at this three-alarm house fire Friday on Durant Road. The focus clearly was on the police department’s ability to shut down the street. It’s the little things that bring a smile to my face.
A surveillance video shows a group of teenagers who stole a plaque honoring a FDNY firefighter killed in the attacks of 9/11 from a community center on Long Island. The plaque has since been returned, but the focus now is on finding the teens.
The plaque honoring William Mahoney was removed, along with several flags, from the Connetquot Youth Association, overnight July 4, according to Mike Barbara, vp of the organization.
Surveillance video shows a group of teens lighting fireworks in a ballfield at the complex, then climbing on the roof and taking down the flags and plaque.
“They pried the plaque right off the rock,” Barbara said. “It’s terrible, for somebody that gave their life, you know, back on 9/11 and the place where his kids played and were brought up — for somebody to go and do that to somebody’s father is just sick, it’s not right.”
Barbara said after reports began to surface in the community about the vandalism, the plaque was thrown back over the center’s fence, wrapped in one of the flags.
My first reaction after reading the statement above from Captain Chris Quinn of Sacramento Metro Fire defending a veteran fire official who did a traffic stop on a citizen was “really?”. Is this really the policy of Sacramento Metro Fire or is it a knee jerk defensive reaction to potentially bad publicity? The spokesman also said they won’t be investigating this incident.
My second thought was if this is really the department’s policy shouldn’t someone do an on-camera interview defending it and explaining to the public in a little more detail this whole concept of firefighters doing traffic stops? Shouldn’t the public be clued in on this so they won’t have the reaction that Patrick Brosnan did when he was stopped?
I encourage you to watch the TV story from KTXL (click here). Pay close attention to the on-camera interview with a spokesman from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s. The department runs the Rancho Cordova police department and has jurisdiction where this occurred. Three Sacramento County Sheriff deputies backed up the traffic stop. Sgt. Jason Ramos said in general and not specifically about this incident, “Doesn’t seem like a proper course of action or a lawful detention on the part of that individual.” The sergeant added,“they’re not vested with that authority.”
This one is reported to be from somewhere in Russia. In addition to the almost 40 cylinders taking off (check the 3:00 point), I am sure you will enjoy how people just block a lane of traffic on the highway to get their video and what appears to be a police officer who ventures close in his vehicle at about 6:30 in the video (as do some people on foot) and then decides it’s time to make a quick retreat.
Here are some of the details from an incident around 3:00 this afternoon when Omaha, Nebraska firefighters responded to a convenience store near 48th and L Streets for a woman with a seizure. According to news reports while being transported the woman pulled out a gun as the ambulance approached 42nd and Center Streets.
The firefighter, who was not identified but is in his mid-30s, grabbed for the weapon and it discharged. A bullet grazed him in the arm, according to early reports from Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert’s office.
The woman apparently managed to get off a second shot, which struck her in the leg, the mayor’s office said.
She was taken to Creighton University Medical Center in critical condition.
Regular readers know I try to avoid boring you with stories of my brief time as a firefighter and fire department dispatcher. But today is an exception. My friend John Harney sent a message out on Facebook this morning reminding us that on this day 35-years-ago two Prince George’s County Police officers, Rusty Claggett and Brian Swart, were gunned down in the police station where they worked.
I have had the unfortunate experience of being in the same building on two different occasions when police officers were shot and killed. One was on November 22, 1994 as I was covering a press conference in the roll call room at the DC Police Department’s headquarters. At the same time, around the corner on the same floor, my friend, Sgt. Hank Daly, and FBI Special Agents Martha Dixon and Michael Miller were shot and killed by a member of a drug gang.
Sixteen years earlier I was two floors above a Prince George’s County police station, working as a PGFD dispatcher, when Officers Claggett and Swart were shot. In 2008, on the 30th anniversary of their deaths, I wrote some of my recollections of that tragic morning. I have added a few thoughts and am sharing it with you again today.
Officer Albert Marshal Claggett IV (l) and Officer James Brian Swart.
On June 26, 1978, two police officers, Albert Marshal Claggett IV and James Brian Swart, were shot to death inside the Prince George’s County police station in Hyattsville, Maryland. They were killed by 15-year-old Terrence Johnson who had grabbed Officer Rusty Claggett’s gun in a small interrogation room.
The events of that morning are seared in my memory because I was asleep two floors above when the officers were shot. The police station was then in the basement of the County Services Building at 5012 Rhode Island Avenue. Prince George’s County Fire Communications was on the second floor.
Before you question why I was asleep, let me explain we were then working 10-hour days and 14-hour nights and had a bunk room. The department allowed half the shift to sleep during the overnight hours. A bell would wake us if we were needed on the dispatch floor.
The floor during much of the spring and summer of 1978 was downstairs and outside. We were working out of a former county bookmobile while our facility was being renovated.
Firefighter Jimmy Wilson, Captain Jim Mundy and I jumped up when we heard the bell ring at 2:43 AM. By the time we ran down to the bookmobile on the north side of the building, the rest of the crew told us we could go back to sleep. Our fellow dispatchers had thought there was a shooting downstairs in the police station, but they had just been given information it was actually in the Hyattsville City Police Station up the street. That information was wrong.
As Jimmy and I turned around and headed back up the outside steps, a woman came running down those same steps screaming and crying. She yelled, “He shot them”. Jimmy and I ran back into the first floor and down the interior stairwell to the basement.
Coming out of the stairwell door at the basement level, we were greeted by the sight of a police officer sprawled across the hallway, clearly wounded, and in cardiac arrest. I began mouth to mouth and Jimmy started compressions on Brian Swart as his fellow police officers stood over us.
As I recall from quick glances of the movement around me, Jim Mundy and Civilian Dispatcher Terry Lloyd were not far behind us. Later, Jim Mundy, who was one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked for, rightfully gave Jimmy and me hell for walking into that situation in just white t-shirts, blue pants and no identification. Mundy at least put on his uniform shirt.
Jim and Terry immediately went further into the police station and began working on Officer Claggett. Claggett was on the floor propped up against a wall and fading fast. Medic 1 was soon there with FF/PMs Bob Yatsuk and Richard Henderson. They split up, each taking over the care of one of the officers.
Much of the rest is a blur to me. Just a lot of images. One was a group of firefighters and cops lifting a stretcher up the basement stairs to the outside with Terry on top continuing compressions on Officer Swart.
The other was looking up to see a teenager stripped down to his shorts and handcuffed to the bench. He had a haunting, far off, glassy stare that I have never forgotten.
Two days later, Yatsuk and Henderson were kind enough to write some nice words about the help they received from “B” shift at the Bureau of Fire and Rescue Communications (click here). But to tell you the truth, we all felt pretty inadequate about our inability to change the outcome of a situation that happened so close to us.
Of all the controversies involving the Prince George’s County Police Department over many years, the Terrence Johnson case may have been the most controversial. Protests cropped up at the County Services Building and threats were received.
Because of those threats, an armed fire investigator was assigned to sit with us in the bookmobile. Plywood was added as a skirt around the bottom of the temporary dispatch center so no one could throw a firebomb underneath. Thankfully none of those threats materialized.
Terrence Johnson was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Officer Claggett and not guilty by reason of insanity in the death of Officer Swart. The bitter feelings lingered on both sides for decades. I never covered the case as a reporter even though developments in the story had been assigned to me at various times through the 1980s and 90s. I always begged off citing my involvement the morning of the shootings.
On February 27, 1997 I received a call from former Prince George’s County Police Chief Dave Mitchell who was then superintendent of the Maryland State Police. Dave, an old friend, had just learned that Terrence Johnson, who had been paroled two years earlier, shot and killed himself after police caught up with him following a bank robbery in Aberdeen, Maryland. That afternoon, for the first time during one of our newscasts, I shared my recollections of June 26, 1978.
That bookmobile was our dispatch center for a little more than three-months. Working in extremely tight quarters, we were put to the test by a number of major incidents. Just 11 days before the police officers were killed, Civilian Dispatcher Chip Norris and I were handling the overnight hours and had sent Engine 201 from the Marlboro Fire Department on a mutual aid call to adjacent Anne Arundel County. A short time later Maryland State Police called to tell us one of our fire trucks was overturned on Route 301. The crash killed Firefighter James M. O’Connor.
Today we remember Rusty Claggett and Brian Swart. While I worked with people who were quite close to them, I didn’t know either officer other than recognizing them from having passed them in the building a few times. But the memory of their deaths is one of those absolutely chilling moments that will always be with me.
As you watch this, I will be the first to admit, other than what is evident on the video, I have no clue what kind of scene this was or what the person with the camera did or didn’t do to warrant the expletives coming from the man who says on the video he is the “fire chief”. What I do know is that, much like Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Captain Greg Smart’s infamous on camera tirade, this is probably not the best way for professionals who deal with public to handle with this situation. Even if you are right, you undermine your own authority and reputation with actions like this caught on camera.
The description with the video from ccspagan simply asks, “Is this how public officials should treat taxpayers?”
We first showed the video below involving Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Captain Greg Smart on March 22, the day after the incident occurred. Since that time a lot of people have been wondering about the outcome of the department’s investigation into Captain Smart’s aggressive behavior toward videographer Taylor Hardy. According to WFOR-TV in Miami, Captain Smart received his disciplinary action a month ago but nobody bothered to let Hardy or the public know the outcome. WFOR-TV reports “the department did virtually nothing to Smart.”
What I find disturbing about all of this is not so much the issue of what discipline there was for Captain Smart. Instead it’s a lack of a clear message from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. In looking at all of the coverage then and now, no one has acknowledged that it is okay for the public to take pictures from a public place and it’s not okay for firefighters to interfere with that First Amendment right. And if that isn’t the case, shouldn’t the leadership at Miami-Dade Fire Rescue explain their interpretation of the? This lack of clarity with such a high profile video probably sends the wrong message to the public and to other firefighters.
The video report above describes in detail what the TV station discovered. Here are some excerpts:
… a close review of the report, written by Chief P.O. Albury, reveals efforts to cover up Smart’s actions.
Hardy filed a complaint that Smart was trying to prevent him from recording at the scene. Albury said that charge was “not sustained” because “at no time did Capt Smart state that the complainant couldn’t film.”
In other words, since Smart did not actually say the words “you can not videotape here” he was found innocent of the charge.
Albury’s report neglects the fact that there was another firefighter standing with Smart who explicitly told Hardy he wasn’t allowed to videotape. It also neglects that Smart told Hardy: “You are leaving right now, turn around and walk away. You are leaving right now.” Nor does it note that Smart attempted to block Hardy’s video with his chest.
Albury did sustain a complaint that Smart’s behavior was “unprofessional.” Albury wrote: “Capt Smart responded poorly when the bystander refused to back out of the safety perimeter.”
But Albury excused the behavior noting that Smart was under a great deal of stress. “I have coached Capt Smart reference this event,” Albury wrote. “He was under a great deal of stress on this call and acted in an aggressive nature when challenged by the bystander. I feel that he and I have come to an understanding as to the expected behavior when dealing with the public. Capt Smart agrees that he overreacted and caused embarrassment not only to himself but to the department. I feel that in the future he will have a different perspective as to how we need to act regardless of the severity of the call.”
Nowhere in the investigation by Albury does it address Smart’s use of the radio to demand police units respond on an emergency basis.