The Youngstown State University graduate said he's learned to appreciate family and friends more since Sept. 11.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Lt. Victor Ceglie will be working on Engine 8 of the Washington, D.C., fire department Sept. 11.
And if he has to do what he did last year all over again, he will.
Ceglie, of Gainesville, Va., has come upon some grim sights during his 11 year career in D.C. -- burn victims, children who'd died in fires.
But nothing was worse than what he saw at the Pentagon that day.
"They're all bad, but this was the worst because of the way it happened. That somebody would hate us that much, it makes you angry," said Ceglie, a Youngstown State University alumnus. "So many people work at the Pentagon. Just to see the amount of people hurt and all over the place, just scattered, and the screaming."
People sitting at their desks, burned, hadn't even had a chance to run.
Others seated around conference tables were captured during that moment in time.
As they sat in silence, utter chaos surrounded them.
Ceglie, among the first to go inside the flaming Pentagon, searched for survivors amid collapsing debris but found only dead, charred bodies. Secret service and FBI authorities warned the firefighters: "Another plane is coming in five minutes. Get out."
It had taken the group 20 minutes to get to the wreckage. They'd never make it out in time. So they huddled together near the crash site, hoping terrorists wouldn't attack the same spot twice.
"That was one of the worst moments," said Ceglie, who played football at YSU. "We didn't know if we were going to be killed."
They all survived. That second plane crashed in Somerset County, Pa.
But Ceglie knew some of the 343 who died in New York City -- a place that lost "a whole generation of firefighters" -- and he knew how they must have felt as they went to their smoky graves.
"We knew we might not make it out. We just kept pushing it. We didn't even think about it. We were just trying to find somebody alive," he said.
Ceglie worked in the Pentagon for about 11 hours, then went back to the station, "exhausted mentally and physically," for some rest. He slept after seeing press coverage of the destruction in New York City, knowing some of his firefighter friends had probably died.
He then helped with logistical duties for another day. When he got home, he hugged his family.
Two days before the Sept. 11 attack, Ceglie had been on the Stambaugh Stadium field at YSU. He and his teammates were the first to play in the stadium and had been invited back.
Ceglie grew up in Follansbee, W.Va., just outside Steubenville. He attended YSU on a football scholarship, playing from 1980 to 1983, and graduating in 1985 with a degree in emergency medical services management.
He worked at Youngstown Fire Department as a paramedic before taking a firefighting job in Fairfax County, Va., and then the Washington, D.C. post. His parents, Mary and Victor Ceglie, still live in Follansbee.
The past year has been marked with "heartbreaking" dedications, where he meets families of those who died, and funerals, where he watches fellow firefighters get buried.
It also has been marked with differences in Ceglie's outlook.
"Mainly, I've changed," he said. "Your fiends, your family, people you really care about and even people you don't know, you go the extra mile for them. ... Because you just see how one day can change so much."
Now, he looks forward every day to going home to his wife Janis and children Michael, 5, Victor, 7, and Kristen, 12.
Other changes have been made around him.
In Washington, there are FBI and CIA agents on every corner. The city is prepared.
"There's a lot of security," he said. "I'm happy to see it. We're a free country, but there are a lot of enemies out there. People just have to get used to it, but we need it."
He said there's also a change in how people perceive firefighters.
"Kids loved us," he said. "But I think now adults realize what being a firefighter is all about, that it's not just squirting water on a fire. You're sacrificing yourself and that's it. You do whatever it takes and if it kills you, it kills you."
He said he'd like to move on, but also to learn from the tragedy.
"Let's prevent it from happening again," he said. "But just remember those we lost and never forget."