For Pentagon First Responders, a New World Since 9/11

Memories remain, but much has changed at D.C.'s Fire Station 10.

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Jaleel Davis still works the B shift.

The charcoal drawing he sketched on scratch paper at the scene outside the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, has been blown up and hangs on the wall to the right of the flat-screen television at Fire Station 10.

But 10 years later, he's the only firefighter on the shift who can tell you what it was like as a first responder that day, putting out flames at the Pentagon, walking the mangled hallways, stumbling through smoke-clouded corridors, searching for survivors, or seeing a city emerge in the courtyard of the Pentagon as first responders worked through the night recovering what they could.

[See photos of the 10th anniversary of 9/11]

A decade later, the station's full of new faces like that of 24-year-old Derek Kuebeck, who 10 years ago was a freshman at a Wisconsin high school, a world away from D.C.

"I wouldn't say 9/11 made me want to be a firefighter, but it definitely influenced me," he says. "I just remember being 15 and being amazed by what I was seeing."

As Davis recalled the moments of 9/11, his soft voice acted as a magnet drawing Kuebeck and others to join him at the station's dining room table. Many of the men at the station now hadn't even been firefighters on 9/11. And while the event changed the way the team goes about its job, the details of the day are rarely spoken about.

"It's not something we ever really talk about, I guess," Davis says, commenting on the amount of interest he'd piqued.

Davis hadn't been on duty that Tuesday morning in 2001. He was at home unloading groceries with the television news on in the background. He watched from his kitchen as the second plane struck the Twin Towers.

"I vividly remember watching the second tower being hit and then a while later there was an interruption. I thought to myself, 'What could be more important than what I am watching right now?' That is when I heard. I froze. I couldn't believe they hit the Pentagon."

Terrorists had hijacked Flight 77 and crashed the Boeing 757 into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., killing 64 people onboard and 125 within the building.

Without a phone call from a supervisor or request for backup, Davis grabbed what gear he could and dashed to work.

[Read about how journalists remember 9/11]

When he arrived, the firehouse was empty.

"It was a ghost station," he says. "There was no one there. Not a soul."

Davis, unsure of what to do next, sat fully dressed with rope in hand in the driveway of the fire station, waiting.

"I just wanted to be there," he said. "I couldn't get there fast enough."

A volunteer firefighter he recognized from another firehouse drove by, Davis waved him down and, in a utility truck, the two men made their way to the Pentagon.

"That day, I don't remember getting a call or anything. I wouldn't say our emergency system broke down. The event was like nothing we'd ever seen before. We were all doing our best, but we were winging it."

At the scene, the scale of the destruction revealed itself to be bigger than what even Davis had anticipated.

"The fire was like nothing I'd ever seen before," Davis says. "I didn't process what had happened. Like a lot of us, I just went to work."

No one went home that first day. "People worked through the night."

If they needed a rest, Davis recalls, he and other rescue workers perched themselves on empty air canisters or piles of lumber.

[Vote: Is the United States Safer 10 Years After 9/11?]

In the days and weeks that followed, workers continued on 12-hour shifts in addition to their regularly scheduled hours, but Davis says he couldn't see doing anything else.

"Everything seemed so insignificant," he says. "Like, we still had to take care of our area's needs, but a stuck elevator seemed like a distraction from the real work [at the Pentagon]."

Davis sold T-shirts to raise money for several nonprofit groups set up in the name of students killed on Flight 77. He says he was with the crew that found one of the plane's "black boxes," 300 feet into the impact area. The audio and data collected by the device was used in the investigation following the attacks. Davis says that, following the attack on the Pentagon, routine calls for the firefighters attracted onlookers and led to spontaneous applause.