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Russell Dodge, former Fort Belvoir assistant fire chief, speaks at the installation's 20th anniversary commemoration of the 9/11 attacks. Dodge was among the first responders to arrive at the Pentagon, and helped rescue five people from the building.

Of the current firefighters working on Fort Belvoir, Fire Chief Kevin Good estimates that he and about 10 others were on duty Sept. 11, 2001.

“I remember those feelings that day: helplessness, confusion, anger,” Good said. “As we move farther away from that day, we must continue to carry those feelings and remember exactly what that felt like.”

Good’s comments came last week during the installation’s memorial service at Davison Army Airfield’s Fire Station 466. Former Fort Belvoir Assistant Fire Chief Russell Dodge, now retired and living in Florida, returned for the ceremony to recall his unique role at the Pentagon.

That day, Dodge was at Fort Myer in Arlington teaching a class on aircraft rescue firefighting. Early in the class someone came in to announce a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. Dodge thought that was unusual, because it was a sunny day. A bit later, someone said a second plane had struck the other tower.

“At about 9:30, we heard a big boom, and it shook us all,” Dodge remembered. “Immediately thereafter dispatch came on the radio and said ‘Myer, be advised we just had a plane crash into the west side of the Pentagon, and we’re involved.’”

Dodge said he jumped in the fire chief’s truck and made the two-mile trip to the Pentagon in less than five minutes.

“When we arrive, there’s devastation and chaos, with plane parts everywhere,” he said, adding that he didn’t have time to don any firefighting gear. “As I’m looking around, I notice a soldier in an office, so I ran up and asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ And he said, ‘I got to get people out,’ so I helped him get five people outside.”

Dodge said he continued searching for survivors, but then everyone was withdrawn when it was reported there was another plane on the way. After confirmation that the plane had crashed, they resumed rescue operations, only to learn of another approaching plane, so everyone retreated again, but minutes later, that plane turned out to be an Air Force fighter jet scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base.

“A while later, we get a report that the [World Trade Center] tower had collapsed, and when I heard that, I looked at the burning hole in the Pentagon and thought to myself, ‘It’s amazing that this building is still standing.’ About five seconds later, the wall came crashing down, and scared the crap out of me.”

Dodge said he was amazed at the region’s response that day.

“D.C., Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Prince William and Fort Belvoir, all those jurisdictions showed up, and it was all self-response,” said Dodge. The unified response dated back to 1982, after the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 into the 14th Street Bridge. “That was utter chaos, and nobody knew who had jurisdiction, or who had authority.”

Afterward, regional governments developed coordinated disaster relief plans. “The Pentagon attack showed those plans put in place back then worked out.”

Dodge continued to work late into the night, and the loss was devastating: 125 people in the Pentagon were killed, along with the 64 people on American Airlines Flight 77. Scores of wounded, many of them severely burned, kept coming out of the building.

“It was a long day – the longest of my career,” Dodge said.

Chief Good urged everyone to remember those around them and to focus on safety.

“After that attack, Americans demonstrated the greatest national pride I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime. I challenge you to take back that feeling and continue that support today, tomorrow, next year and for the next 20 years,” Good said “We are able to work and learn every day … only because we are fortunate enough to have a nation of patriotic public servants that wear a multitude of uniforms around the clock, for one sole purpose – taking care of other people.”

Paul Lara covers the military beat. Reach him at plara@insidenova.com

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