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Fairfax Search and Rescue Leader Remembers 9/11 Call

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Brinkley, right, oversees fire and rescue crews respond to a struggling
motorist on the highway.  He also oversaw search and rescue efforts at
the Pentagon on September 11.  He calls that day "surreal".
Marc Adams
Brinkley, right, oversees fire and rescue crews respond to a struggling motorist on the highway.  He also oversaw search and rescue efforts at the Pentagon on September 11.  He calls that day "surreal".

Everybody remembers where they were during the 9/11 terrorist attacks ten years ago. For Ed Brinkley, Battalion Chief with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, it was a day that he would never forget.

Ed Brinkley was serving as Assistant Task Force Leader with Virginia Task Force One. He was on leave, waiting in line to have his car inspected when he heard that a plane had struck one of the World Trade Center towers.

"Being part of our team, we naturally started to gear up, thinking that if FEMA was going to deploy our teams," Brinkley says. "While we were getting ready, and thinking about what our brother fire fighters were getting involved with up in New York, we heard about the crash at the Pentagon. Of course, our whole strategy switched and we knew that we'd be dispatched to the Pentagon."

For Brinkley and his team, the attack on the Pentagon was even more poignant because it happened right in their backyard. Instead of preparing for several hours of travel, it was just 20 minutes of travel time. They knew the roads, the building and the people.

"I really don't think that many, if any personnel that responded, didn't know someone that worked in the Pentagon," says Brinkley.

When Brinkley's team arrived at the scene, they found a situation that was unlike any they had seen in their fifteen years of urban search and rescue experience. They had to contend with a plane crash, an explosion, a horrific fire and the collapse of building all at once. Normally an urban search and rescue team arrives a day or two after an event. On 9/11, they had to pull together with the area fire departments to get the fire under control so that they could perform their search and rescue mission as soon as possible.

Despite the bravery that Brinkley and his team demonstrated that day, he doesn't consider himself a hero, nor does he know many first responders that do. He says he was simply put into a situation where he was asked to respond, and he did.

"I think most people kind of cringe at that word," Brinkley says. "It's not what most people get into our profession for --  to be called a hero. We certainly appreciate that, and understand where it comes from, but we just want to know that we did a good job."

Hear Ed Brinkley tell his story in his own voice.

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