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Firefighter reflects on Pentagon attack

September 11, 2001 still weighs on Michael Defina.
Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 3:02 PM EDT
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AHMEEK, Mich. (WLUC) - September 11, 2001 still weighs on Michael Defina. The former battalion chief of the Reagan National Airport has not spoken to a reporter about 9/11 in 17 years.

His 9/11 began by responding to a traffic collision at the airport.

However, Defina’s focus quickly shifted when he watched a Boeing aircraft hit the Pentagon – less than a mile away from the airport.

“It was so very surreal, difficult to comprehend,” said Defina. “However, it was not much time to make educated decisions. You made split second decisions based on the circumstances you found.”

Defina was the first battalion chief to arrive. He had to make order out of chaos.

Firefighters began by extinguishing exterior flames on the Pentagon to make sure there were escape routes for victims.

However, Defina says there were no viable rescues to be made.

“We found pieces of people, still a lot of fire,” said Defina.

The nation was in jeopardy of shutting down if Pentagon flames were not put out. So, responders reached higher ground.

“There were only two ladders to get us up on the roof,” said Defina. “With 200 people it took time.”

Firefighters faced another threat too. Without the national airspace secured – any unknown aircraft flying at the time was considered a danger.

“We just finally gave up and said, we need to ignore that. We have a job to do. We need to save this nation,” added Defina. “We’re going to stay here and do our job, and whatever happens, happens. We’re good with [that].”

Flash forward to present, Defina lives in retirement with his wife in the Keweenaw. He also volunteers with the Ahmeek fire department.

“You gain a greater appreciation and comradery with your co-workers, you value your life, your freedom, your family,” said Defina. “And what you have to a much greater extent after surviving an incident like that.”

He also mourns for those who weren’t able to come home that day.

“I consider myself very fortunate, I have my life, and 343 firefighters in New York lost theirs. So, there’s something to be said for that,” concluded Defina.

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