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Contractors Rush In to Aid Recovery at Pentagon

Wed September 26, 2001 - Northeast Edition
Brenda Ruggiero

Ever since American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, crews have been working around the clock to aid in the clean-up efforts. Although the work was hampered by the occasional fire and stopped at one point for a bomb threat, it has progressed well. Besides removing bodies and debris, the FBI’s Evidence Response Team was able to recover the flight data recorder and voice recorder from the plane.

President Bush visited the Pentagon the day after the crash to see the damage. He toured the site with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, speaking with rescuers, firefighters and law enforcement.

The President said, “Coming here makes me sad, on the one hand; it also makes me angry … But coming here confirms what the Secretary and I both know, that this is a great nation. People here working hard prove it; people out here working their hearts out to answer families’ questions, to remove the rubble and debris from this office. I want to thank everybody not only on this site, but all across America, for responding so generously, so kindly, in their prayers, in their contributions of love and their willingness to help in any way they can.”

Urban Search and Rescue task forces from Fairfax County, VA; Virginia Beach, VA; Montgomery County, MD; and Memphis, TN, were dispatched to the Pentagon by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). About 400 soldiers from the U.S. Army’s Military District of Washington were initially working around the site, both securing it and aiding in the removal of bodies.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also involved, and Arlington, VA, fire chief Ed Plaugher is helping to direct the excavation. Search and recovery was scaled back a week after the crash, when civilian rescue workers from Fairfax County, VA, and Montgomery County, MD, were sent home.

Besides the need for rescue workers at the site, there was a need for construction equipment and crews who are accustomed to erecting buildings and tearing them down. Lee Evey, manager of the Pentagon’s renovation program noted that many companies are involved with supporting recovery and other jobs that need to be done. “The response from the construction industry in general has been overwhelming and tremendously positive,” he said.

Construction Crews

That Tuesday began as a typical day for Washington, D.C.’s Bovis Construction on its job site on Pentagon Row — directly across from the Pentagon. The crew was building a mixed-use retail and residential apartment complex there. General Superintendent Joe Cramer said he heard about the incident at the World Trade Center, and “about 20 minutes later, something rattled my building.” He went outside and saw the black smoke rising from the Pentagon.

Within the hour, two colonels arrived. They had seen the construction site and wanted to assemble machinery, equipment and assistance.

“The Pentagon gave us a police escort to get our equipment across the road. We were the first crew there, and used our equipment to clear away the debris to allow access for the cranes and the pumper trucks to get into the building,” Cramer said.

According to Cramer, 23 men from Bovis were initially at the site, but they were scaled back as FEMA dispatched its crews.

Cramer noted that the equipment it used included seven or eight Bobcats, three rubber-tired loaders, three backhoes, and miscellaneous forklifts and hand tools. Also essential to the cleanup are dump trucks and dumpsters.

Another company called in was Facchina Construction of LaPlata, MD. Chris Sullivan, equipment manager, reported that it sent 20 to 25 men to the site. He said, “Facchina completed a job on the section that was destroyed — Wedge 1 — about a year ago. They called us in because they were familiar with us from that job,” he said.

Sullivan reported that its equipment at the Pentagon site has included a Cat 345 excavator, a Hitachi 400 excavator with grapple, a Cat 963 loader, a Grove RT 635C rough-terrain crane, a Grove RT 740 rough-terrain crane, a Cat forklift, a Lull forklift, an Ingersoll-Rand forklift, a John Deere 710D loader/backhoe. In addition, they are using a Bobcat skid steer with a grapple bucket, a rental from Metro Bobcat.

In addition to construction crews, several rental companies received requests from FEMA as well. Bill Finagan, president of National Wrecking, reported that FEMA called him for a concrete pulverizer, but they didn’t have one that was large enough. They had a 35-ft. and 45-ft. (10.6 and 13.7 m) reach pole, but they wanted something that would get in from the top. Finagan called Potts & Callahan in Baltimore, who had rented National Wrecking’s Cat 345 backhoe with a 72-ft. (22 m) super long reach boom to use in the demolition of Memorial Stadium. Attachments include a 360-degree pulverizer jaw and a sheer jaw.

“It’s a pretty unique piece of equipment,” Finagan said. “There are only two in the country — the other one is in Chicago.”

Tim Collison, executive vice president of Potts & Callahan, noted that the equipment required three tractor-trailers to move. They requested and received a police escort to get it through Friday afternoon traffic to the Pentagon.

Operators Perry Bowser and Ken Shipley ran the equipment in 12-hour shifts, working on removal and securing of the pancaked building, crunching through one floor at a time. “What they’ve done is magnificent. They surgically removed the building to make it safe for rescue workers to come in,” Collison said.

A FEMA engineer was working directly with the operators, suspended in a basket on a 200-ton (180 t) Liebherr hydraulic crane. “The engineer looked for movement of the building and was in radio contact with the operators to tell them where to bite,” Collison said.

Collison reported that the rig was shut down after working for four days. “They had torn down what they needed for the FBI and the others to continue their work. The demolition went very well, and FEMA was very pleased. The long reach backhoe saved them days,” he said.

Collison was struck by the fact that all the crews worked together to get the job done. “All the contractors worked as one. Whether they were union or not didn’t matter — it wasn’t an issue at all,” he said.

AMEC, a global engineering services and construction company with a division in Bethesda, MD, had nearly completed its work on the renovation of Wedge 1 at the Pentagon when the plane hit.

“We were asked to help support the immediate rescue and recovery efforts, using heavy equipment to assist the fire department and rescue teams to move debris in that effort,” said Lee Benish, corporate spokesperson. They have also been asked to provide ongoing support in determining the amount of damage.

In addition, Benish reported that the company has been hired to complete a “rehabilitation of the base building of Wedge 2 and a rehabilitation of Wedge 1.” Once they bring Wedge 2 to the completed building stage, it will be turned over to the contractors for the renovation of the interior space.

Reports of other equipment currently at the site include a Hitachi 330 sent by Elliott & Frantz of Jessup, MD, and a 70-ton (63 t) hydraulic crane from Springfield Rental Crane Co. Inc. in the Washington, D.C., area. Sunbelt Rentals of Springfield, VA, sent a telescoping boom forklift, a T-Rex 1056, a Genie S60 lift, several 4,000-watt light towers, 3,600-watt generators and Cushman Titan electric carts. United Rentals also sent light towers, generators and a saw blade.


Defense officials estimate costs for repairing the Pentagon will exceed $100 million, and restoration will take years to complete. The plane went through three of the five rings of the five-story building. The fire moved left and right along the three rings for the equivalent of two city blocks.

The most visible damage is the gash in the outside wall, measuring 75 to 100 ft. (23 to 30 m) wide. Beyond that, soot damage is particularly bad on the upper floors, and water damage is evident in about one-third of the building. FEMA reported that 38 columns were compromised by the crash and had to be shored up to prevent collapse.

Officials noted that the damage would have been even more extensive if the plane had not struck a recently renovated area that was structurally reinforced. The cost of renovations on that area totaled $258 million. Improvements included blast-resistant windows that were 2 in. (5 cm) thick and weighed 2,500 lbs. (11,134 kg) each. They survived the crash and fire, while the older windows far away from the crash were blown out.

Special reinforced steel construction, including 6-by 6-in. (.15 by .15 cm) steel beams, kept the building from collapsing for 30 minutes, which gave hundreds of people time to get out safely. The beams were bolted together from floor to floor to form a contiguous unit. Fire-resistant Kevlar cloth was interspersed between the windows and the steel beams to catch any fragmentation from a blast. Automatic fire doors also were added. In addition, it was the only section of the building with a sprinkler system. Mechanics and engineers helped contain the damage as well by remaining at their posts to shut down electrical and water systems, even though the building was being evacuated.

The Pentagon’s Lee Evey said, “The building absorbed a tremendous amount of punishment. This could have been much, much worse. The fact that they happened to hit an area that we had built so sturdily was a wonderful gift. We believe that the effect of this structure was to dramatically slow the plane as it entered the building and reduce the extent to which it penetrated the building.”

The Pentagon renovation project began in 1994 at an estimated cost of more than $1 billion. It was less than 20 percent complete.

The Building’s History

The Pentagon building was conceived at the request of Brigadier General Brehon B. Sommervell, Chief of the Construction Division of the Office of the Quartermaster General in 1941. The purpose was to provide a temporary solution to the War Department’s critical shortage of space. The groundbreaking ceremony took place on Sept. 11, 1941, and the building was built in just 16 months. It was dedicated on Jan. 15, 1943, and cost about $83 million. The building covers 29 acres.

The original site contained wasteland, swamps and dumps. The foundation of the building required 5.5 million cu. yds. (4.2 million cu m) of dirt and 41,492 concrete piles. In addition, 680,000 tons (612,000 t) of sand and gravel were dredged from the Potomac River nearby and processed into 435,000 cu. yds. (332,584 cu m) of concrete, which was then molded into the Pentagon form.


“I am extremely proud of the outpouring of assistance we have received from the public over the last few days,” Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette said. “However, this operation will continue for a number of days still, and it is increasingly important for us to be able to phase in support when and where it is needed.”

To offer assistance call:

• Arlington County Information and Referral line —703/228-3000

Monetary donations:

•Arlington Community Foundation — 703/243-4785

• Arlington United Way — 703/522-0606

• American Red Cross — 800/435-7669

• Salvation Army — 800/725-2769.

Brenda Ruggiero

Brenda Ruggiero has written for CEG for over 20 years. She lives near the town of Accident in far western Maryland. Her favorite assignments so far involved interviews with Survivor’s Boston Rob and hot dog eating champion Joey Chestnut. Both were involved in construction at one time.

Brenda holds a BA in Mass Communication with a writing focus from Frostburg State University and minors in Public Relations and Political Science. She works full time as a staff writer for a weekly newspaper, the Garrett County Republican. She enjoys feature writing the most, which gives her the opportunity to talk to people and share their stories.

Brenda and her middle school sweetheart, Reuben, have been married for over 34 years and have three grown children and four cats.

Read more from Brenda Ruggiero here.

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