Remembering Where I was on 9/11


It was a typical Tuesday morning, I had arrived at my office in Camper Hall at William Fleming High School. I began my day as usual checking on paperwork, setting my schedule for the day, and then supervising students as they arrived to begin another day of education, the skies were clear and the sun was shinning brightly.

Students were in their first period classes and I in my office talking with my secretary and guidance counselor, as we finished I went back to work, after a few minutes Captain Mark Hutton who was teaching ROTC entered my office and said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I asked him if it was a small plane and he said they were not sure, so I left my office and crossed the hall to watch on a TV in the ROTC room. I can remember the students clearly dressed in their Air Force uniforms sitting there glued to the events unfolding in front of them. As they watch I remember watching the 2nd plane striking the World Trade Center and now knowing that this was unusual and had a sinking feeling in my stomach.

The bell rang to end first period and I remember that the kids were starting to discuss the planes in the hallways, the administrators watched the students hurry to class as they wanted to watch what was unfolding. As we tried to keep students and staff focused on education it was very difficult not to let your mind wonder to what was happening. Then news came that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon and I knew that the United States was under attack and I realized that life as I had known it had changed forever. My mom was in Lewis Gale hospital is critical condition and close to death, I remember calling the nurses station and asking what was on the TV in my mom’s room and they said the news, I asked them to change the channel, as I knew that she could still process sounds and I did not want her to worry about my brothers who I had not been able to reach and had no idea where they were and whether they were in harms way.

During this time I was Chief of the Lexington Fire Department and I knew that everyone would be on edge as the nation had watched the towers collapse and that some of our brothers and sisters had died in this act of terrorism, along with hundreds if not thousands of innocent victims. Throughout the day I continued to reach out to my brothers to see if they were safe and this was to no avail. As the school day continued I remember wishing that this was a bad dream, and for once I was wishing for the day to be over, and as usual it continued to drag on. Right before the closing of school for the day I remember an announcement that all after school activities were canceled, this was so students, staff, and faculty could go home and be with their families. When the time came I remember leaving school and driving to Lewis Gale to see my mom, once there I talked to the nurses and they said that she was having a rough day, I went in and visited and when I left I leaned over and kissed her on the head and told her that all of us were OK and that we would take care of each other. I left and drove home, in fact I do not remember much of the drive as it was a blur. There was very little traffic for a Tuesday on the interstate and this along with the calmness in the skies made it a very weird trip.

Once home I hugged my family and remember sitting their watching the news and being engrossed with the images from earlier in the day. Later that evening I attended a fire association meeting and remember the meeting moving quickly and not much being said, we all returned home to our families. When I returned home my daughter and son were still up and asking many questions that as a dad I did not have answers for and struggled to explain to them. After the kids went to bed I was able to reach my older brothers, one was in the Coast Guard in Rhode Island, and the other had been at the Pentagon and said that he was OK, as he had been on the other side of the structure, those phone calls were such a relief. It was not until the next day that I heard from my younger brother who had been at a NEMA meeting, and that night he and others who had been at the meeting were flown home along with their families on a C-130 with F-15 escorts. Once I knew they were all safe it was a tremendous feeling of relief.

We need to ensure that we never forget the events of that day so that type of attack is never allowed to take place again, we are “One Nation under God” and if we live divided as a nation then we will die a divided nation.

God Bless the United States of America.

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First Responders are Emotional Victims in Mass Casualty Incidents

As I write this I think of the last three horrific events that have touched the lives of citizens of this great country. First is the slaughter of the the children and staff at Sandy Hook in Newton, Conn., second is the terrorists attack at the Boston Marathon, and finally the deadly explosion in West Texas. Over the years the first responder has been protrayed as someone who is tough, strong, and also has a compassionate side for the work that they do for their citizens. There is an emotional toll that this takes on these professionals.

As a police officer it is unstood that you will deal with people and their negative behaviors and there is a possibility that you may have to discharge your weapon in order to resolve a situation. An EMS provider is trained to understand that you will see people at their worse and there is a strong possibility that no matter what you do for the victim they may not survive. Firefighters in many areas are trained to fight fire and nothing more, this can be true in small or rural communities where you have both a volunteer fire department and rescue squad.

What the general public does not see is the emotional effects that calls such as Sandy Hook, Boston, and West Texas can have on first responders. No adult has been trained to witnessed the death and destruction that these events have inflicted on the youth of America. We are all raised to understand that as aperson ages it is expected that they will die as this is part of the life cycle. No amount of training can prepare a first responder for the events that they witnessed at Sandy Hook, Boston, and West Texas. The ideas of seeing a child who has been killed or injuried due to terrorists attacks, or some other event is very distrubing to any adult, especially a first responder that has to deal with the aftermath.

First responders are human and it is understood that when you are called to duty that you preform and move on, sometimes the hardest part is dealing with the moving on. Many times first responders will “play back” in their mind what else could they have done, what if I was there sooner; all of this is part of the process that first responders go through after a very emotional event. Months and even years down the road many first responders can replay the events of the incident in their mind. While the thoughts are not daily they do have an emotional impact on the responder, every responder deals with these events in their own time and way.

Unfortunately, many times the first responders are unable to cope with the effects of these types of events and they fail to get the treatment needed to move on and so they start to turn to other outlets for help. Many of these other outlets have negative consequences and after a while they have become dependent on these outlets to help them cope. It is the obligation of the first responder community that when these horrific events occur that the proper assistance be provider to the responders to ensure that they are emotionally healthy so that they can continue to move on and serve their communities.



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Middle School Students Receive Preparedness Message

On Wednesday December 12th middle school students at Maury River received a preparedness message. Robert Foresman Rockbridge Coutny’s Emergency Management Coordinator spent the day speaking to the physical education students about how they can do their part in being prepared for disasters and emergencies that affect this area.

The students recevied information on what they and there families can do to be prepared to survive for 72 hours post event without assistance from the government, also explained was the process for restoring critical infrastructure after an event. The presentation also featured an explaination of the requirements of each locality to be prepared for an emergency, how first responders operate during emergencies, and the fact that Rockbridge County has the most Presidental Declarations of any locality in the state. The students were able to learn of the types of emergencies that Mr. Foresman and other first responders have responded to over the years.

Students were able to share stories of how they have been affected by disasters and to ask questions concerning emergency preparedness. The day was very worthwhile as the students were able to gain valuablee insight into the world of emergency preparedness and response.

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Injuried Hunter Rescued

On Monday December 10th at approximately 1430 hours Glasgow Fire Department and Glasgow Rescue were notified of an injuried hunter in the Petits Gap area of the county. The initial call said that the hunter had fallen and had sustained serious injuries, it was unknown at the time the exact location of the hunter or the extent of his injuries. Once on scene fire and EMS established command and began receiving conflicting information on the exact location. A determination was made to send response personnel in from the top and the bottom of the mountain. At approximately 1600 hours first responders from the Glasgow Rescue Squad along with Conservation Officers reaached the victim. The injuries were serious but not life threatening, the patient was treated at the scene by rescue personnel.  Additional resources were contacted to respond to the scene, this included an additional transport unit from Buena Vista Rescue Squad, the ropes trailer from Buena Vista Rescue, Buena Vista Fire Department, Lexington Fire Department, Natural Bridge Fire Department, and Virginia Department of Emergency Management Search & Rescue Personnel.

At approimately 2000 hours the stokes basket arrived at the scene of the patient, he was packaged and prepared for the trip out of the woods. VDEM SAR personnel arrived at the scene as the patient was being carried out and they coordinated the removal of the victim from the woods. The trip down the mountain was a slow process due to the rough terrian were the victim was located. At approximately 2300 hours the victim was out of the woods and then loaded onto air medical for transport to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital for treatment of his injuies.

The patient was released from the hospital later in the week and is recovering at home.

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Governor McDonnell Proclaims December 2-8 Winter Preparedness Week in Commonwealth

RICHMOND-While Hurricane Sandy brought a surprise, early significant
accumulating snowfall to portions of Virginia, meteorological winter doesn’t
officially begin in the Commonwealth until Saturday. With the upcoming winter
season in mind, Governor Bob McDonnell has proclaimed December 2-8 as Winter
Preparedness Week in the Commonwealth and is encouraging all Virginians to take
this time to prepare to protect themselves and their families in the event of
any major winter storms in the months ahead.

“Over the past 14 months, the Commonwealth has suffered through extended power outages resulting from warm weather systems like hurricanes and derechos. We hope all Virginians have taken note of these storms and will now take steps to be ready for the storms that winter could bring,” said Gov. Bob McDonnell. “As a Commonwealth, we are taking every prudent precaution to prepare and I hope that Virginians will do the same.
To highlight the importance of being winter-ready, I am asking our citizens to
observe December 2-8 as Winter Preparedness Week.”

Although last winter was less snowy than the previous two winters in Virginia, the National Weather Service notes that anything could happen this year. “It looks as though there will be a greater number of opportunities for low pressure systems to track
nearby compared to last winter,” said Bill Sammler, NWS warning coordination
meteorologist. “Temperatures are the wildcard in the pattern that is setting up.
If we have cold temperatures with these southern low pressure systems, then we
could have more snow or messy mixed precipitation events.”

What should Virginians do to prepare for winter weather? Here are several important safety tips:

•Get fireplaces and wood stove chimneys inspected and cleaned.
These often build up creosote, which is the residue left behind by burning wood.
Creosote is flammable and must be professionally removed.

•Install smoke detectors in every bedroom and one on every level of your home. Check the
batteries every month. If you already have smoke detectors and did not replace
the batteries when the time changed recently, replace them now.

•If you use space heaters, plug them directly into wall sockets; don’t use extension
cords. Keep space heaters at least three feet from other objects such as
furniture, bedding and draperies. Do not leave space heaters unattended. Turn
them off when you go to bed or leave the house.

•Gather emergency supplies. Start with these items: at least three days of food that does not need refrigeration or electricity to prepare, in case the power is out; at least
three days of water, which is one gallon of water per day per family member; a
battery-powered and/or hand-crank radio and extra batteries; flashlights and
extra batteries; a first aid kit and an extra supply of medications in case you
can’t get out to get prescriptions refilled. Get more details and a checklist at

•Make an emergency plan. Decide on a meeting place to reunite if your family cannot return home. Choose an out-of-town friend or relative as a point-of-contact and be sure all family members have that person’s phone number – it is often easier to call long distance than to call locally during an emergency. Remember family members with special needs and your pets when making your emergency plan. Get a free worksheet at

•Get where you need to go before the weather gets bad. Road condition information is
available 24/7 by calling 511 or visiting Even when roads
have been treated with salt and/or sand, drivers should reduce speed and leave a
safe driving distance from other vehicles on the road. Driving is most dangerous
when the temperature is at or under 32° F. If the road is wet, ice is likely,
especially on bridges, ramps and overpasses.

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Acid Leak Closes Exit Ramp in Rockbridge County For 7 Hours

Exit 195 Northbound in Rockbridge County was closed on Saturday November 24th for 7 hours while first responders worked an incident involving a hazardous material. An estimated 28 gallons of acrylic acid leaked from a 55-gallon drum inside a truck traveling north on Interstate 81 in Rockbridge County. 

According to Robert Foresman, emergency management coordinator for Rockbridge County, most of the leaking acid was contained inside the trailer.

A state hazardous materials team from Shenandoah Valley responded and determined that one of the 26 drums of acid being transported inside the truck had leaked, Foresman said.

The leak was first spotted around mile marker 176, but only a small amount of acid was believed to have spilled outside the truck, he said.

An evacuation was unnecessary, and travelers were not in danger, Foresman said.

“It was probably such a small amount as it was coming out that as long as they are in their cars they will be fine,” he said.

Still, the incident likely contributed to a four-mile delay at the same location that was reported by the Virginia Department of Transportation. Foresman said drivers traveling in the already congested part of the highway were slowing down to gawk at the situation, which drew several emergency response vehicles and personnel.

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June Derecho

It’s officially known as a derecho.

That is the meteorological term for the storm that trampled the Rockbridge area on Friday evening. A derecho (pronounced “deh-REY-cho”), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is “a widespread, long-lived windstorm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.

Rockbridge County emergency management coordinator Robert Foresman said winds that blew across Virginia on Friday were estimated at between 60 and 80 miles per hour.

According to the Weather Channel, the storm started Friday morning outside of Chicago as a cluster of thunderstorms. The developing derecho gathered intensity as it stormed east, hitting the Rockbridge area around 9 p.m. Winds raged throughout the area for almost 90 minutes before the storm moved through.

The force of the winds took down trees and snapped off power poles, closing major roads and leaving about 9,000 households or about 75 percent of the people in the area without power, Foresman said. As of Tuesday, a spokesman for Dominion Virginia Power said 3,361 Dominion customers remained without power. BARC Electric Cooperative did not have a specific figure for the Rockbridge area, but reports 4,600 customers still without power in their entire service area that includes portions of Bath, Alleghany, Rockbridge, Highland and Augusta counties.

Updates about power restoration can be found at http://www.facebook. com/BARCElectricCooperative for BARC customers or at for Dominion customers.

The storm and power outages resulted in at least two structure fires, one on Marshall Street in Lexington that required firefighters to enter the home to rescue a person trapped and incapacitated by smoke inhalation on the second floor. Lexington fire and rescue Chief Ty Dickerson said the person was successfully resuscitated on the front lawn by rescue personnel.

The other fire was on Gun Hill Lane. Firefighters were able to save both houses.

“It was the night from hell; it all happened very quickly,” Dickerson said about Friday night, a sentiment that is probably reflected in the thoughts of firefighters, rescue personnel and law enforcement officers throughout the area as well as power company linemen and public works employees. Fortunately, the only two injuries in the Rockbridge area that were reported by Foresman were to two visitors to the Natural Bridge Hotel who were injured by debris while walking on the nature trail.

Lexington firefighters and rescue workers experienced difficulties accessing houses throughout the night because of the number of downed trees and blocked roads in the city with the greatest damage occurring in the Providence Hill area. There were some tense moments as firefighters worked to reach the house on Marshall Street. Dickerson said they had to resort to driving across a neighbor’s lawn.

When the hot winds blew through Glen Maury Park in Buena Vista, hundreds of campers attending the National Moto Guzzi Rally took shelter at the park’s multi-purpose pavilion behind the Paxton House. Park director Ronnie Coffey, who was home at the time the storm started, said he got to the park just as the winds were dying down around 10:30 p.m. Everyone seemed to make it through the storm unscathed, he said.

There were a number of downed trees at the park, as there were throughout Buena Vista. The city’s streets were mostly clear by Saturday evening, in time for the motorcycle parade that went from the park to downtown and back. Coffey led the parade of approximately 400 motorcyclists because police and other emergency personnel were otherwise occupied in the aftermath of the storm.

Power went out at the park and the golf course, and remained out Monday. While the park office was without power, the campground was open Monday, though the swimming pool was not.

The campus at Virginia Military Institute managed to escape relatively unharmed; however there were over 100 trees downed or damaged beyond saving at Washington and Lee University. W&L spokesman Jeff Hanna reported a major section of the metal Science Center roof was blown down and lesser roof damage was reported to the roofs of Newcomb and Howe halls and at the maintenance shop.

The storm only temporarily abated Friday’s 95 plus degree heat wave that returned with a vengeance on Saturday. With much of the county without electricity, staying cool and hydrated became equally important as clearing roadways. The Red Cross set up a cooling station on Saturday and Sunday at Rockbridge County High School where people could relax in air-conditioned comfort and enjoy bottled water and snacks provided by Wal-Mart. Goshen resident Dee Garrett and her three sons were at RCHS on Saturday. She described her trip home along Va. 39 around 11 p.m. the night before as being like “driving into a war zone. I never have seen anything like it. It was like someone had taken a giant plow and dug up the trees.”

Cooling stations were also opened up at several firehouses around the county over the weekend. On Monday morning Foresman commented, “The big thing now is a lot of people are going into their third day without electricity and it’s really starting to take a toll. It’s important for residents to check on their neighbors because of the risk of heat-related injury or death.” Cooling stations could be found on Monday at South River, Rockbridge Baths, Walkers Creek and Natural Bridge fire departments and at Beth Horon Methodist Church in Natural Bridge Station.

Late Sunday afternoon, Lexington City Manager Jon Ellestad released a statement advising that “all streets in the City of Lexington, with a few exceptions, are open for traffic, but travel widths may be narrower than normal due to debris buildup. Electrical outages are still widespread in numerous areas around the city. There is no good timetable, at this time, for complete resumption of electric service. Please be prepared for service not to be fully restored until the end of the week.”

Lexington City Hall was closed on Monday due to the lack of electrical power. Ellestad said in his statement that it is estimated that it will take many weeks to pick up all the debris left by the storm. Lexington residents can call 462-3717 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. or check the city’s Web site at lexingtonva. gov for updates.

Buena Vista City Manager Jay Scudder said Monday morning that a couple of pockets of power outages remained – residences atop Mapps Hill, and in the vicinity of the park and golf course. The northern end of the city was without power Friday night and Saturday morning. Power never went out in the southern end of the city, in the area of Enderly Heights.

There was no interruption to water or sewer service in Buena Vista. Scudder reported that some well pumps went down, but the water system remained operational, and the pumps have been fixed, said Scudder.

Glasgow Town Manager Ryan Spitzer reported Monday that utilities in the town are operating although water is being pumped directly from the town wells to water customers due to power outages. He said all roads in the town are passable. However, some are limited to one lane. Public works crews began brush pickup on Monday.

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