Where were you when you first heard about the attacks on September 11, 2001?
I was the Planning Section Chief on the Swamp Ridge Fire Complex on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and was about to lead the morning Operational Period briefing where I would hand out the Incident Action Plan with the cover you see below.
We had no smart phones or Twitter, but someone happened to be listening to the AM/FM radio in his truck and heard it on the news. When I learned about the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center I figured it was an accident, thinking about the B-25 that crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945. But when the second one crashed into the other tower, I knew it was not an accident.
Our Incident Commander aggressively insisted that everything go on as planned, allowing almost no acknowledgement of the tragedy. We still had to manage the fire, of course, but I felt that it was a huge event that was having an impact on the whole country including everyone assigned to the fire. A little more empathy was warranted, I believed, for how it was affecting the United States and our personnel. It seemed as if a little PTSD was creeping into our organization out in the middle of nowhere, dozens of miles by road from the nearest small town. An official acknowledgement of what was happening to our country, and encouraging people to talk about it, would have been helpful.
After a day or two we rented a satellite TV receiver system and a large TV for the Incident Command Post which made it possible for us to watch a few minutes of the 24/7 coverage now and then or at the end of our shift.
All non-military aircraft were grounded for a while, including our firefighting helicopters. I remember being in my tent at night trying to sleep and hearing what was a surprisingly large number of aircraft flying high overhead through the darkness. Having little contact with the outside world, especially during the first few days, I wondered where all those military aircraft were going. It was a rather uncomfortable feeling, to say the least.