September 11, 2001, is a day that we will always remember. As we remember the heroes and the tragedy of that day, we offer a conversation. Energy Fairness Executive Director Paul Griffin had the opportunity to speak to Rich Bauer, President and CEO of Valley Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc. On September 11, 2001 Rich was the General Manager of Somerset Rural Electric Cooperative in Pennsylvania, whose service territory included the crash site of Flight 93. Rich and many other members of the electric cooperative family were an important part of the story that unfolded on September 11th and the days to follow.
Our conversation with Rich:
Q: Did you know about the strikes on the twin towers and the pentagon before Flight 93 crashed in your service territory?
Yes. We had one TV in our lobby and we heard about the first tower strike and thought that it was just an accident by a small plane. When the second tower was hit, my whole office was glued to the TV in the lobby. We were waiting to see what came next.
Q: When did you first realize that Flight 93 might have crashed in your co-op’s service territory?
While we were watching the TV in the lobby, we had some outage calls come in from out at Indian Lake. We had a service crew in the area so I got on the radio and was informing them of the outage when Somerset County Emergency Management broke through our transmission to inform us that there were reports of a plane down in that area. Even though it made sense, I believe most of us felt that it wasn’t due to the events of a terrorist attack. We kept saying, things like this just don’t happen in rural America.
Q: How did your employees react to what they saw and how what did they tell you once they came upon the crash site?
Our one crew was in the area so they called me to let me know that they felt it wasn’t a large airplane because there wasn’t much debris on the ground. They felt like it was a small plane. They were probably the first ones on the scene when they called. I immediately jumped in my vehicle and went to the site. By this time, the fire and local police departments were on scene but I was able to get directly to the site. I was shocked because I knew the reports were that a large airplane was down but honestly, there was a shallow crater in the field with very little debris on the surface. I couldn’t figure out, if it was a large commercial airliner, where it was. I would later find out that it was buried below the surface.
Q: How quickly were the FBI and other investigative agencies on the scene after the plane crashed?
The local fire companies and police were the first on the scene. I would guess they were there within 15 minutes. The state police arrived next within the hour and they brought in a trailer command center as well as multiple officers to assist. The FBI were the last group to arrive around 3 pm as they were traveling up from the Washington D.C. area. Those agencies were the main investigative agencies on site. Many other agencies arrive over the next 2 days including the Salvation Army, The Department of Environmental Protection, United Airlines, etc.
Q: What was the coop’s role in the days after 9/11 during the heart of the investigation?
Our main role in the days following was to make sure every agency or organization had adequate power for their trailers, decontamination tents, etc. Mostly, we were there to help out in any way we could. Like most other Americans during that time, we wanted to do something we just didn’t know what to do so we provided everything from jackets for the FBI agents who arrived not knowing what Somerset County was like in September, to wiring up the services for everyone. A little side story behind this event was that the plane burnt down our three phase primary wires and it was a radial feed so everyone at the site was without power and we weren’t allowed to put the line back up. So we worked with our neighboring IOU that had an abandoned line nearby and we helped them clear it, energize it, and then we set up a temporary regulator bank to change the voltage and built line into the site. We were told it would be 2 weeks until we could get power back to the site and with a little Cooperative ingenuity and cooperation, we were able to supply power to the site by 6 pm on the 11th.
Q: What is the one indelible image you have from that day?
This one is a little bit tricky for me because there were so many things that occurred during that time. On the bad side, when I went to the site that first morning before it was gated off, I saw things on the ground that will probably haunt me for the rest of my life. I try to push those memories as far back as I can and think of the good things. For the first time in my lifetime, I saw people from all walks of life working towards a common goal and I saw more love and patriotism for our Country than I ever thought possible. The outpouring from not only our community but from communities all around the state and country was amazing. America became one that day and I can only hope that we will see that type of emotion again. As far as a specific image, there are 2 things. The first is the makeshift memorial that was set up. People brought whatever they had to honor those heroes from Flight 93 and that memorial is far more important to me than the permanent one that is in place now. The second is standing next to President Bush down by the crash scene as he was preparing to address the world on the tragic situation that was before us.