Plans to replace a Pentagon fire station destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks remain incomplete, with no firm timetable for completion, the News4 I-Team learned.
A replacement of the fire station, which is used by firefighters assigned to respond to emergencies at the Pentagon helipad, has long been sought by fire union officials and Pentagon leaders. But the plans have frequently stalled, and the project’s outlook remains unclear more than 15 years after the terror attack.
The Pentagon helipad fire station has been temporarily housed in a set of temporary trailers, in close proximity to the helipad, which is used by helicopters carrying military VIPs, foreign dignitaries and Marine One. It is manned by firefighters also assigned the fire station at Fort Myer. Pentagon officials acknowledge a new station is overdue and necessary, but there are disagreements between union leaders and military leaders about whether the temporary trailers are fully safe.
Mike Jackson, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local F-253, which represents the firefighters assigned to the Pentagon fire station, said the trailers are in disrepair and need to be mothballed.
“It’s a temporary facility,” Jackson said. “It’s a trailer. How safe is a trailer, really? It’s falling apart. It’s seen better days. Bathroom doors are falling off. Pieces of the ceiling are coming down.”
According to a Pentagon planning document released by the National Capital Planning Commission, “These temporary facilities, constructed after 9/11, are exhibiting various states of wear and tear.”
Pentagon officials, who agreed to give a News4 I-Team photographer access to the trailers, said the structures are sound and usable until a permanent facility is built. Sajeel Ahmed, director of facilities for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Washington Headquarters Services, said the trailers are sufficient in the interim because the firefighters are not stationed there around-the-clock.
“(The trailers) are safe. They are operational,” Ahmed said. “We are working through the process as quickly as possible. It is an important mission, and we want to make sure they have the right facilities to meet the mission.”
The temporary facilities were expected to be replaced by a larger and permanent fire station years ago after Congress approved in 2012. The I-Team’s review of congressional records show the plans fizzled and funding was surrendered because officials underestimated the cost of the project. The proposals from contractors far exceeded the projected cost presented to Congress, according to the records reviewed by the I-Team.
The 15-year wait for the new fire station is frustrating to the firefighters who use the trailers, in part because their colleagues were among the first responders who sought to rescue victims on 9/11, Jackson said.
“We’ve gone 15 years with anniversary after anniversary,” he said. “We always preach we’ll never forget. I think we’ve been forgotten.”
The temporary trailer which holds the fire station’s red crash response truck is so small in diameter, it risks slowing the response of firefighters to an emergency, Jackson said. He said the engine must be backed into the structure and requires a slower, more precarious set of movements to drive out of the trailer dock, he said.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he would support a new congressional appropriation to fund the construction of a permanent fire station.
“There needs to be adequate space for first responders at the Pentagon,” Kaine said. “The Pentagon is going to be a magnet for threats.”
Ahmed, the Pentagon facilities director, said there is no estimate for when new funding will be requested from Congress. A plan should be ready to present to congressional officials within months, Ahmed said.
The firefighters at the Pentagon helipad fire station are not the designated lead responders to fire emergencies at the Pentagon’s sweeping campus in Virginia. Those duties are assigned to Arlington County. But Pentagon officials acknowledge the fire station needs to have the capability to swiftly respond to an emergency at the helipad. The firefighters are also positioned to provide mutual aid to a fire emergency at the facility, Jackson said.
Survivors of the 9/11 attack at the Pentagon responded strongly to the I-Team’s findings. Bill Toti, a former Navy employee who evacuated through the thick smoke of the fire, said the U.S. Department of Defense and congressional leaders should move swiftly to erect a new station.
“If the next casualty incident is like a 9/11, the people who are saved will be saved by the people you have on hand when it happens and the equipment you have on hand when it happens,” Toti said.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.