On Sept. 10, 2010, City department employees and residents of Albuquerque gathered on Civic Plaza for our annual memorial and tribute. Chief Breen was selected as the key note speaker because of his heroic response to the Pentagon as a NM Task Force Rescue Squad Manager on Sept. 11th, 2001.
Remarks delivered by Albuquerque Fire Chief James Breen for the ninth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
On Sept. 11, 2001, at 9:37 a.m., hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 was crashed into the western side of the Pentagon at 530 mph with a fuel load of over 37,000 pounds. The Crash killed 184 innocent victims, including 6 crew members, 53 passengers, and 125 people working in the building. Another 106 injured people were treated at area hospitals. Nearly all survivors were rescued within the first half hour following the crash.
The impact severely damaged a large portion of the Pentagon and the aircraft penetrated 310 feet into building, and ignited a large fire. Within 38 minutes of impact, a portion of the Pentagon collapsed. The fire raged for over 32 hours and smoldered for several days thereafter.
I was deployed to the Pentagon on Sept. 17 as part of a highly specialized Urban Search and Rescue Team, called New Mexico Task Force-1. The team was composed of 62 New Mexicans, 42 of which were Albuquerque Firefighters. Our initial assignment was to replace another USAR Team, Tennessee Task Force-1, who had been engaged in recovery efforts for the past several days and needed relief from the demanding working conditions. The collapse area that most Americans viewed on their televisions had been de-layered to the 3rd floor but did not capture the extensive damage and debris found on the interior of the 5-story structure.
Our Primary objectives were:
- Recover human remains, personnel effects, classified information, and aircraft parts
- Remove debris from the interior of the building
- And erect shoring where the building's structural supports where either damaged or destroyed.
As the Rescue Squad Manager, I was responsible for the deployment, welfare, and safety of 4 Rescue Squad Teams. Often, rescuers had to be ordered to stop working and exit the hazard zone to rehab, break for meals, and cease operations for the day. Rescuers carried out their assignments with a great sense of pride, duty, and determination. Mission planners estimated it would take our Task Force 6 days to complete assigned tasks, we did it in 3. It's apparent that collective purpose, dedication, and teamwork contributed to this success. We considered our presence at the Pentagon to be a position of great honor and felt privileged to be able to contribute to the recover effort. Most Americans helplessly watched recovery efforts, while our team could at least engage in meaningful exertion that provided an outlet for our outrage and anger.
9-11 has come to mean many things:
- It is first and foremost a day of remembrance of 2,977 victims that lost their lives, to include those emergency responders that gave the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their fellow man.
- It is a day to honor our armed forces and veterans for their service, sacrifices, and for protecting our freedoms.
- It is a day to honor emergency responders for their service and sacrifices
- It is a day of hope, that one day we will experience global harmony
- It is a day of vigilance, to remember that we must be prepared for and defend against evil.
- It is a day to remember that as Americans, we live in the greatest nation on earth
Firefighters, police officers, and EMS workers respond to many horrific events throughout their careers, and in the course of delivering our services, we involuntarily develop a mental photo album of un-pleasant images that we carry with us to our graves. For me, the enduring image from the pentagon deployment was not gruesome in nature, but is of a soiled high heeled shoe that was dug out of the debris. I have no way of knowing for certain, but I'm convinced that the shoe belonged to a wife, a mother, a daughter, who loved her family and was loved in return. It is that image that will haunt me forever. It wasn't all bad, for from the worst of circumstances brings forth the best characteristics in men and women. Those that have served together know the true meaning of brother and sister hood, enduring friendship, mutual support, and undying service to a noble cause.
It is fitting that we pay tribute to those that wear a uniform, be it Military or Public Service. The Citizens of Albuquerque should take comfort in knowing that we are prepared to answer the call, rise to the challenge, and do our duty when called upon.
I suggest that sometime today that you read the biographical descriptions of those that died on 9-11 and in doing so you'll see the essence of human life revealed. You'll not only find courage, but goodness, diversity, passion, virtue, and most of all, love.
9-11 highlights the value and sacredness of human life. Conversely, you'll also become aware of the true meaning of evil. Evil is void of love, does not value human life, causes great harm, and thrives in an atmosphere of hate and ignorance.
In closing, I would ask that in a private moment, you look to the heavens to honor those that died on 9-11 and repeat in your prayers that "we will never forget".
And as we continue to face the threat of terror and experience hateful acts, let us emanate the sense of urgency, purpose and duty demonstrated by Todd Beamer, when he and a few others were preparing to re-take control of Flight 93 which was being flown by terrorists, by remembering his last recorded words … "Are you guys ready? Let's Roll"