“I just hope people don’t forget”: Ohio Valley native & firefighter remembers the Pentagon on 9/11

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WASHINGTON D.C. (WTRF) – Where were you on September 11, 2001?

Many people have vivid memories at home, at school, at work. 

Follansbee native and Retired Battalion Fire Chief Victor Ceglie started his day in Washington D.C. and ended up at the Pentagon. 

Everybody went to work that day thinking they were going to go home that day.

Victor Ceglie, Retired Battalion Fire Chief, Washington D.C. Fire Department

Nearly 3,000 people never made it home, but Victor Ceglie did. He was working as a Sergeant with the 2nd Battalion Fire Chief of Washington D.C. Fire Department on September 11, 2001.

While Ceglie would go on to have more than 26 years with the Washington D.C. Fire Department, he was about 10 years into the job at that time.

He remembers a beautiful morning, sitting in the Chief’s office, and watching the planes hit the World Trade Center on television.

The phone started ringing in the office like, did you just see that? The next thing you know the bells went off for a plane into the White House.

Victor Ceglie, Retired Battalion Fire Chief, Washington D.C. Fire Department

Ceglie was at a station outside of downtown, which wasn’t assigned to respond to the White House in emergencies.

But then, they got another call.

A plane hit the Pentagon.

With the downtown companies now stationed at the White House, Ceglie lead multiple trucks through the main freeway to Arlington.

It was a sight to see because everybody was stopped and out of their cars. The amount of smoke coming out of the Pentagon, I just couldn’t believe my eyes. It looked like the whole you know southwest part of D.C. was on fire.

Victor Ceglie, Retired Battalion Fire Chief, Washington D.C. Fire Department

Ceglie remembers when he got on the scene he was focused on fighting the fire, and the gravity of the situation hadn’t yet set in. 

His crew teamed with others from Arlington and headed into the interior of the Pentagon to fight the raging fire. 

As Ceglie explains it, the Pentagon has five rings. Operations for national security were still ongoing in parts of the building, so it was imperative that they put out the fire as quickly as possible. So, they entered through a part of the building known as the “C” ring and began to work.

At that time they said get out because another plane was inbound and it’s gonna hit us again. So, you know, we’re all looking at each other going ‘we ain’t getting out of here’. It was an eerie feeling at the time that we could be hit again.

Victor Ceglie, Retired Battalion Fire Chief, Washington D.C. Fire Department

That wouldn’t happen, so they continued through the rings of the Pentagon for hours on end. 

We didn’t find anybody alive. One room had people still around their desks, didn’t even get the chance to move.

Victor Ceglie, Retired Battalion Fire Chief, Washington D.C. Fire Department

Eventually the Chief pulled Ceglie and others from fighting the fire and sent them to what’s known as rehab to get fluids and rest.

He finally got a chance to tell us ‘you’re not going back in there’ and we were mad at him because we were angry this happened to America. We didn’t want to stop. He said ‘you guys are done. You’re spent. You just protected us’.

Victor Ceglie, Retired Battalion Fire Chief, Washington D.C. Fire Department

That’s when Ceglie finally got to notify his family that he was safe.

That was a tough day for them. They knew I was working. There was no cell service to get out. You couldn’t get ahold of anybody and they were worried.

Victor Ceglie, Retired Battalion Fire Chief, Washington D.C. Fire Department

It’s also when he said the loss set in.

Somebody asked me ‘did you hear about New York?’ and I’m like ‘yeah I know the towers got hit’. And he said ‘yeah they fell’ and I’m like ‘what pieces of the tower fell?’. He’s like ‘no they fell completely’.

Victor Ceglie, Retired Battalion Fire Chief, Washington D.C. Fire Department

Ceglie had friends in New York City’s fire departments.

I knew how those guys go, you know, and I knew they’d all be in that building. I knew if it came down we had a lot of firemen there and to find out that 343 of them died, that’s when it hit me.

Victor Ceglie, Retired Battalion Fire Chief, Washington D.C. Fire Department

Some of his friends were among the 343. 

I just hope people don’t forget that. You know, um we put our lives on the line every time we go out the door, but no one expects to die like that.

Victor Ceglie, Retired Battalion Fire Chief, Washington D.C. Fire Department

One of Ceglie’s friends did survive the collapse of the towers, after being pinned by debris in a stairwell.

Ceglie said he doesn’t talk about that day much, but hopes the memories he shared serve as a reminder to never take life for granted.

He was awarded the Order of the 35th Star by then West Virginia Secretary of State Joe Manchin for his actions at the Pentagon on 9/11.

In the years since, he explained that firefighting has changed and his job changed. They were more safety conscious, had better equipment and better training. Ceglie was also part of a team with the Washington D.C. Fire Department that updated the emergency response plan for the White House.

Ceglie said that everything he accomplished would never have happened without his Ohio Valley upbringing and he never forgets his roots.

Growing up, he recalled he wanted to be a professional football player or a firefighter.

I can’t remember when I didn’t love those two things.

Victor Ceglie, Retired Battalion Fire Chief, Washington D.C. Fire Department

It turns out, football was also a large part of his successful firefighting career.

Without football I would of never been the fireman I was because it teaches you teamwork. It teaches you toughness. It teaches you mental toughness. You deal with pain. Everything I did as a football player I did as a firefighter. You’ve got teammates that depend on you.

Victor Ceglie, Retired Battalion Fire Chief, Washington D.C. Fire Department

Ceglie retired from the Washington D.C. Fire Department as a Battalion Fire Chief after more than 26 years.

He now works on a national response team for FEMA, and has coached high school football.

Ceglie is married to his wife Susan, and they have six children.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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