Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Firefight: Inside the Battle to Save the Pentagon on 9-11

Scott Thewn, Agence France Presse

The new history, Firefight: Inside the Battle to Save the Pentagon on 9-11, is to be released tomorrow. It was written by Rick Newman, a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report, and Patrick Creed, who is described as a volunteer firefighter and amateur historian, who is also an army reserve officer who was called to serve in Iraq and was injured there.

NPR's popular program, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, aired an interview with the authors last Wednesday morning. In honor of the books publication, I transcribed an approximately five-minute segment from the interview in which the authors discuss a problematic aspect of the attack story: the roof fires, which were not brought under control for nearly two days, and which damaged an extensive portion of Wedges 1 and 2 of the building.

This new blog will eventually become home to any blog materials relating to the roof fires that are currently organized in a scatter shot fashion elsewhere.

I don't think it is my imagination to say the mood of the interview changed when Ms Gross brought up the topic of the roof fires almost fifteen minutes in.

This is the way she broached the subject:

"On 9-11, after the Pentagon was attacked by the plane, the roof, part of the roof was on fire. What the firefighters didn’t know until they were told, was that if the fire on the roof spread much further it would basically put the whole Pentagon out of commission. Would you explain what the problem would have been?"

We don't learn who is speaking when, but both communicate in an identical measured and articulate style. One answers

"On the roof, initially the fire chiefs thought—that was a pretty minor problem, there wasn’t a significant structural issue, it was sort of separate from the rest of the building, it wasn’t going to get down and set offices on fire. They considered it a low priority issue, so they essentially made it a secondary effort. What they found out early the second day was, when a military officer approached the chiefs and said we have a problem. The fire is burning on the roof towards antennas and other critical uplinks so that we can communicate around the world. If those uplinks are destroyed the terrorists have won. We can’t communicate. The Pentagon is ineffective. And this was just a complete and total shock. The fire chiefs thought, Chief Plaughter, Chief Schwartz from the Arlington county fire department, they thought they pretty much had everything under control, and here you find, now we have to get up on this immense roof, with just, very difficult to traverse, and its on fire and we have to figure out ways to get ahead of the fire and stop it from spreading to these critical points."

Ms. Gross: So, what were the problems in dealing with the roof? Because there were similar problems that the fire fighters had with the blast proof windows.

"They couldn’t get the roof fire out—the firefighters are trained for, you know, they are trained to deal with roof fires on the tops of buildings, and they do all the time, on warehouses, on strip malls, things like that. Again, this just gets back to the unusual and unique, ah, way the Pentagon was constructed. So the roof is about a foot thick of concrete, with different layers of horse hair insulation, which nobody had ever heard of at the time, they didn’t even know that they used to use horse hair as an insulation, and they couldn’t get to the fire, so some part of the wooden structure was sort of sandwiched between a foot of concrete on the top [sic] and other material underneath it, so they just couldn’t get to this wood that was burning, and you would think, how did the fire get there, the fire got there because the jet fuel spewed everywhere, and the jet fuel just got into places, ah, where ordinary flames probably wouldn’t get, and in some areas it lit off right away, and in other areas it just sat there until an ember ignited it, or a gust of wind came and ignited it, and they just could not get to this layer of wood that was sandwiched between, basically concrete on both sides. The wood just kept burning [chuckle] very slowly around the building, all around the building, until it actually started to circle the building on the inner area. At that point, even if there had not been this sensitive stuff on the roof, the fire could then have then gone back down and caught other parts of the building on fire. So it’s just a very tricky problem, by the time they realized how serious it was, they put all the firefighters they could get up there, ladder trucks—they actually put port-a-potties up on top of the roof so they could kind of run this longer-range firefighting operation up there, than they had ever anticipated."

Ms. Gross: So, how did they get around the problem of the concrete?

Initially, there was power tools brought up, saws to cut through cement and concrete. Most of those broke, and the majority of labor was done by firefighters taking off their coats, and using sledgehammers, axes, to just brute-force pound through the concrete.

Lots of time they pounded through the concrete--they tried to do something called a trench cut, where, like cutting a break in a forest fire—so they could catch the fire and stop it before it spread any further. Well they would get to where they thought they were ahead of the fire, pound through the concrete with just incredible effort—you have to remember, it was a very nice day on September 11th, September 12th, bright sunny, this was difficult to work in—there’s smoke everywhere, they’re pounding through the concrete, they get through finally, make a small hole and look through, and the fire has already past that point. It‘s already beat them, and all that effort was for nothing. They have to grab their tools, run 50 feet further down the roof and try to get ahead of it again before it spreads past, so they can make that break and stop the advance of the fire. This happened many times. They did get power tools later on, but even after that, the vast majority of the effort was sledgehammers and sweat. (4:43) 19:07

I believe a deliberate obfuscation occurs when one of the gentlemen says:
"...part of the wooden structure was sort of sandwiched between a foot of concrete on the top [sic] and other material underneath it, so they just couldn’t get to this wood that was burning..."
The roof was made of foot-thick concrete, on top of which was a wooden form, to which the slate shingles were attached. The burly firemen had only to smash through the shingles to get to the fire.

From Acknowledgments, page 460:

"The 'Arlington County After-Action Report' for instance, provides a thorough overview of the incident at the Pentagon. But it was based on a trove of officer reports, internal memos, interview transcripts, and other documents from the Arlington County Fire Department that were either destroyed or misplaced afterward, and were unavailable to us."

Journalist Rick Newman (left) and firefighter Patrick Creed

One wonders why this pair wrote this book. The army alone has 22 military history detachments, plus 16 in the Army Reserve. When I posted the author's publicity photo on a message board recently along with what I thought was some rather obvious commentary about the pair's attractiveness, I was criticized for irrelevance, but I think not. Where did these two come from? Their credentials, appearance, manner of speaking, and utilization as co-authors tasked with explicating a controversial topic, all hint at backgrounds as undercover operatives.

Perhaps their shared world view goes even deeper than that. An imprinting onto their neuro-linguistic pathways of a truth that constitutes an alternate reality from the one I perceive. It would be so much easier to learn they were just paid to lie.

But I'm not going to think about their brains, in any case. Never having been initiated into the hunt by the men of my tribe, I'll await my pre-ordered copy, so I can search for the answers there. Till then, I have plenty to keep me busy.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Let's establish what the Pentagon roof is and what it is made of.

Found on the web is a wonderful personal reminiscence of a man, Stanley Nance Allan, who as a boy worked as a carpenter to build the Pentagon. Then in this bit of symmetry,
"Twenty-five years later, in 1967, guided by what only could be a mysterious flow of destiny, the architectural design of the Pentagon Metro Station became my responsibility as project manager at the Washington office of Harry Weese Associates."

Mr. Allan writes, "The repetition of the production techniques and the coordinated division of work perfected efficiencies as construction continued upward for each of the five floors and finally for the construction of the sloping concrete roof slabs."

In this FEMA image of the reconstruction is the gable roof over one of the corridors, where the new work will meet the old, and where we get a good glimpse of the thickness of the roof slab.

In a second FEMA image, we see the construction of the wooden base for mounting the decorative slate shingles, on top of the concrete slab, visible to the right.

In a thumbnail, we see the interior of the fifth story of the E-ring, with the underside of the cast-in-place, slab-and-beam roof visible.

This high-resolution aerial image shows the nature of the damage from the roof fire, which worked its way under the old heavy slates and into the wooden substructure, stuffed with horse-hair insulation we were told.

"Fire damage in the second story appeared most severe around the region of collapse and near the breach in the second-floor slab. Generally, the most obvious fire damage was between the fire walls to the north and south of the area directly damaged by the aircraft debris. (duh) The most severe fire damage occurred on the first and second floors.The team noted no impact damage above the second story.

"The subsequent fire fed by the aircraft fuel, the aircraft contents, and the building contents caused damage throughout a very large area of the first story, a significant area of the second, a small part of the third, and only in the stairwells above."

According to Lee Harvey Evey--

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