Remembering those dark days

SG American Legion
9/11 remembrance

SUGAR GROVE—The Sugar Grove American Legion will hold a moment of silence in remembrance of 9/11 on Sunday, Sept. 11, from 8:45 to 9:15 a.m. at Sugar Grove Veteran’s Park, 201 S. Main St. There will also be a presentation and raising of a flag that flew over Ground Zero in 2001.
At 2 p.m., Mike Fagel, who was a 9/11 responder for the Department of Justice in 2001, will give a presentation on “9/11/01— 9/11/11, How Far We’ve Come in the Last 10 Years.” Fagel teaches Homeland Security at Northwestern University and Northern Illinois University, and does work supporting the Department of Homeland Security at Argonne National Laboratory. He was deployed to the Mideast in 2005 and has spent over 25 years in the fire service.
The Sugar Grove American Legion is located at 65 First St.

Elburn remembers 9/11
Elburn—The Elburn and Countryside Fire Protection District will host an open house in remembrance of all those who died due to the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Our nation will never be the same and neither will the families of those who lost a loved one.
Help them celebrate the lives of the victims of this tragedy, as well as remember the sacrifices made by the firefighters, policemen and rescuer workers who have the desire to serve, the ability to perform and the courage to act.
A flag raising ceremony, memorial service begins at 8:45 a.m. at Station One, 210 E. North St., Elburn. An open house will follow at Station One from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Station Two will hold its open house from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 39W950 Hughes Road, Elburn.

Photo: Sugar Grove resident and Fire Protection District member Mike Fagel (on the left) with FDNY Logistics Chief Charles Blaich, helped coordinate rescue and recovery efforts following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City. Courtesy Photo

Sugar Grove resident remembers September 11, 2001
by Mike Fagel
Ten years; what a difference.

The day started as any other day, that fateful day, 10 years ago. We all heard of the plane crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City, and many have thought of it as an accident. Then, in horror, we saw or heard of the second plane crashing into the other Twin Tower.

At that moment, history will show, the face of emergency services changed. There was no organization called Homeland Security in 2001 (it was created March 1, 2003).

I had been a member of the North Aurora Illinois Fire Protection District since 1975, working in Emergency Medical Services, Emergency Planning and disaster preparedness. Also, I served as a reservist with FEMA since 1995 (my first deployment was the Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19, 1995).

At 11 a.m. the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, my pager went off to contact, and I was put on standby with travel orders to be forthcoming. I arrived at Ground Zero on Sept. 13, and was assigned to the FDNY Logistics Chief, DC Charles Blaich. We were in the midst of extreme and utter destruction, the likes of which I have never witnessed before.

Debris piled as high as you could see (those were collapsed buildings 110 stories tall reduced to piles of twisted steel, cement, billowing smoke).

The piles were tombs, final resting places of nearly 3,000 souls that perished in this heinous attack on America, and the free world.

As we know from that day’s events, attacks occurred at the Pentagon, and on the aircraft that was brought down in Shanksville, Pa., by the heroic efforts of the passengers and crew that was potentially destined for the Capitol or White House.

My tasking as I arrived on Sept. 13 was to report to the FDNY command post and to meet the Chief of Logistical support for the Fire Department. I first met Chief Charles (Charlie) Blaich and was told to “stick to me like glue.”

Thus we began what was to be a journey into things I have never witnessed before. We began by finding out what the various sector’s needs were for support of that shift.

Body bags, flags, saws, masks, staffing—and that was just a small part.

We then travelled to the “pile” to determine conditions and look ahead to the next operational period’s needs.

After spending four or five 15-hour tours with Charlie and Lee (chief’s aide), we began working on strategies for equipment.

We had numerous ambulances from all over the states that just showed up, wanting to start working. We had to very carefully control the units in and out of the scene.

One other issue (of hundreds) that came up was that of scene safety. Charlie knew that in my “previous life,” I was a safety officer for FEMA at disaster sites.

He told me after about the sixth day that I was now the Incident Command Safety officer for the site and would represent the FDNY’s needs and concerns at the daily Headquarters Command briefing at 0600 and 1800 at the Pier 92 headquarters.

These “pier” meetings were held with department heads and agency officials from each of the city departments on scene (public works, health, police, hospitals, mayors office, etc.), plus the myriad of federal agencies and departments. We had OSHA, EPA, Coast Guard, Army, Navy, Secret Service, FBI, to name just a very few of the more than 85 agencies from outside NYC involved on a minute-by-minute basis.

It was a constantly changing site; every moment a new challenge. From safety, to security, construction equipment, debris removal, It never stopped. The days and nights were endless, but we kept at it.

One of the saddest days was when we gathered 10 of us to help develop the “transition” plan, when the operation would move from rescues to recovery. That changed the situation 10,000 percent. When the final decision’s planning documents were completed and sent to the mayor’s office for eventual implementation, the change on the week of Sept. 26 to phase out rescue and move to a recovery phase was very heavy indeed. I helped facilitate the discussions as we tried to maintain focus on the mission at hand.

To picture a group of fire and rescue officers weary from the burden of losing their command staff, and nearly 400 uniformed members of the fire, EMS and police services weighed heavy. We had tears being choked back (and a few fell) as we examined the actual facts—that there could be no more live rescues or survivors after day 16 (the Mexico City Earthquake had a last-known survivor rescued on day 14).

The document was not to be made public (that rescue would wind down) due to the fact that we still thought that there could have been nearly 10,000 people still unaccounted for. It was in effect a stark situational analysis of where things were as the smoke and dust settled.

I went home for a few days in October and was immediately called back to the site after four days by Chief Blaich, where I stayed until Christmas.

As I close this short essay, I have many more things to share, but I will share with you a paragraph of a letter I received from Chief Blaich a year later.

In part …

“A true professional, Mike Fagel arrived at FDNY WTC Incident Command Post on Duane Street, a short distance from Ground Zero, as chaos was still not contained. He organized, directed and cajoled until order again appeared in our health and safety efforts for the thousands of personnel struggling at rescuing the victims of 9/11. Many of the Ground Zero workers have their health still intact because of Mike’s courage and efforts. The Fire Department was well served by Mike’s courage and efforts. The Fire Department was well served by his knowledge and expertise.”

* Charles R. Blaich, Deputy Chief FDNY, & Logistics Chief, WTC ICP

That says it all, why I did what I did, and do what I do. Thank you, Charlie, for those kind words.

The events of 9/11 are in my mind every day, and for those lost and ill.

We all work for the common good for the people.

Mike Fagel is a trustee of the Sugar Grove Illinois Fire Protection District, and served as a 28-year member of the North Aurora Illinois Fire Department in various roles and responsibilities. He served as a reservist with FEMA for 10 years and now teaches Emergency Planning and Homeland Security at several universities, as well as working Critical Infrastructure for the Department of Homeland Security at Argonne National Laboratory. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone, and not that of any local, federal agency or institution. Fagel can be reached at mjfagel@aol.com.