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Lab Tech Describes 9/11 Response

"There were a lot of heroes that day. The young lab tech, Spc. Kristopher Sorensen. He`s not a medic. . He went in more than once. His poise was just outstanding. When he was speaking to me, he would come up directly to my face, make eye contact and report back to me whatever I had sent him on his mission to do. . No one ever taught Sorensen this. He just instinctively knew what was needed at the time."

— Maj. Lorie Brown, Chief Nurse, Pentagon Clinic

Excerpts from an interview with Spc. Kristopher Sorensen, the Pentagon, regarding Sept. 11, 2001. Spc. Sorensen is a medical laboratory technologist at the DiLorenzo TRICARE Health Clinic, the Pentagon. He was awarded the Soldiers Medal for his actions on Sept. 11.

Interview conducted Oct. 12, 2001 by the Office of Medical History, Office of the Army Surgeon General.

We began the day as always, drawing blood, running lab tests, working the sections. I`m not sure what time it was, still early morning, I was watching on the TV and heard that the World Trade Center got hit. So we were watching it, watching the news coverage of that, still doing our work and everything. Then the second airplane hit the World Trade Center.

I went to work on my computer. I was in another room from the laboratory radio and all I heard from the radio was "Team 1 out the front, Team 2 out the back." It is not abnormal to hear an emergency team being called, because we provide emergency care for the entire Pentagon. But to hear both teams being called at one time, that set off an alarm in my head.

We were evacuating. It still didn`t click that anything had happened, because we didn`t feel anything. We figured it was just a safety precaution. So we evacuated all the patients out of our section, . closed down the lab, turned off all the lights and everything, closed all the doors so people would know that the lab was empty. We proceeded out to North Parking to our rendezvous site at the river entrance of the Pentagon.

I still didn`t know anything had happened. After I exited the building, I noticed an expression on somebody`s face looking back. So when I turned around to see what they were looking at, all I saw was smoke coming from the top of the Pentagon. Somebody bumped into me, so I turned the other way. It was somebody bleeding from his head. So I grabbed him, and started walking toward . Emergency Team 1, where they were already setting up a triage.

I was trying to assist the emergency team. I`m not [an emergency medical technician]. I can`t remember who said it, but somebody said, "We`ve got to go inside." . I told him, "Give me a bag [a medical aid bag] and let`s go." So he handed me a bag, and then we started running inside—me, the sergeant and the rest of Emergency Team 1.

They had a lot of people flowing out, just because it`s almost directly opposite the blast site, so everybody was moving away from it. We were running up Corridor 8. Everybody else is now not walking but running the other way. Some people stopped and started running with us like no, you need to go the other way.

We ran out into the center courtyard. They had a lot of people out there, a lot of patients wounded, and our emergency team immediately started going to work on them, all the medics. I was assisting, giving them stuff, supplies, helping them with IVs.

Then I ran into [a coworker]. He told [the doctor I was working with], "I need help," and she said, "Sorensen, go with him."

We ran up the steps into the building. Smoke was very thick. You couldn`t see too much. Eyes started stinging. I couldn`t think straight from all the smoke.

We ended up working on a patient, a burn victim. He was burned from head to toe. He was Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell. I can remember his nametag was melted on his chest. We started working on him, trying to stabilize him so we could get him out of there. . I don`t know how, but [a sergeant from the Pentagon clinic] showed up with one of our ambulance golf carts. So we hooked him up with an IV, oxygen and everything, put him on a backboard, got him onto the ambulance, and they evacuated him.

After that, we`re in the building still trying to find patients, get some people out, do something. Then we exited the building down in the center courtyard, where we started helping out the patients there. It was overwhelming. We have about, on the emergency team, five, six people or so trying to deal with all these patients.

I remember outside I tripped over a big old piece of shrapnel kicked like 50 feet from the building or so. It still hadn`t clicked that the airplane had hit us.

So we`re working in the courtyard trying to assist. At one point I was sent back to the clinic to get more oxygen. I ran back to the clinic, got oxygen and returned. We were steadily getting patients. People would bring us patients, or patients were walking out on their own into the courtyard, and we were working on them. We`ve got a little triage station set up.

Then some [military police] ran out and said they have another plane inbound, you have 10 minutes to get out of here. And there was no doubt in anybody`s mind that another plane was coming. But nobody left. We still had patients and also medical supplies.

Our mission was just to take care of everything until Arlington County shows up with more medical supplies, all the ambulances to evacuate everybody. We`re running out of medical supplies because we don`t have enough to support this amount of casualties.

So we think this plane is coming, and we`re working. People are running out. Then the MPs start screaming, "You have five minutes. You need to get out of here now." By this time it`s just a pretty much medical personnel from the clinic in the center courtyard, still trying to stabilize these patients and get them out. Finally the MPs left. They said, "We`re not staying." So we were in the courtyard.

We got all the patients out and were grabbing as many medical supplies as we could carry [and evacuating]. We`re running through the courtyard with medical supplies, thinking time is up, thinking another plane is going to come any minute. And being in the center courtyard, if another plane were to hit, we knew we were through.

Then the emergency teams evacuated to South Parking. . We couldn`t get out there. I can`t remember why. I`m still kind of fuzzy from all the smoke. So I ended up going down toward North Parking.

[The chief nurse is] on the radio trying to get hold of DPS, saying, "How much time do I have before the second plane? Do I still have time to get medical supplies out of the clinic?"

I gave a situational report from my point of view, and then I said, "Major Brown, what do you need?" She told me to get this, this, and this. So I ran into the clinic. It looked like a war zone now. There was stuff everywhere. There were shoes. By this time smoke had filled the corridor. I went down through Acute Care, and I don`t know where anything is at in there because I`m not an emergency medical technician. So I grabbed a wheelchair and I started loading it up, ripping open drawers and whatnot, threw IVs on there, grabbed a medical chest that was still in there, got some different things to hook up oxygen bottles and some other supplies.

We went out the building towards North Parking where everybody had moved across the street because another plane is coming. They have triage and everything set up out there because we had evacuated our patients from the center courtyard out there, and also patients just walked out on their own.

At this time no ambulances have showed up. We have no way to evacuate these patients. We have them ready to go on stretchers. . So we started grabbing people out of vehicles and evacuating the patients in vehicles . to get them out of there to hospitals.

I remember a jet flew overhead, an Air Force jet, and people jumped about 3 feet when they heard the boom go by. They said whew, that`s the good guys. So we got most of the patients out of North Parking to the hospitals using private vehicles, and then they started forming up teams to go back inside to go recover patients. Finally DPS said there are no other airplanes coming.

So then I moved back inside the building. I went out to the center courtyard. The medics started setting up triage again. I was with them, and a couple of other people—I don`t know who they were. There were about four or five people. We tried to re-enter the building . to see if people were still in there and pull them out. We couldn`t get in there.

I had somebody`s shirt. I asked somebody for a white t-shirt, and I soaked it in bottled water [as protection against smoke inhalation]. Somebody had given me a bottle of water because I guess I looked totally dehydrated by that time. I soaked the t-shirt in that. By this time I couldn`t even think. My head was pounding. I had a headache I never felt before from all of the smoke, my chest hurt, my eyes were running.

We entered. I guess some water pipes had broken, or the fire department had sprayed water everywhere. We were in water about up to our knees, and you could see chemicals floating on top of it. . We managed to secure some little masks and some nose and mouth filtration devices. I also got a flashlight from a DPS officer.

We moved up and we got as far as we could go, and we were stopped by the firefighters, all the smoke. As soon as they gave us the word, we could go in . so we`re just waiting to go in . to try to get some people out.

We kept waiting and waiting and waiting. So finally we moved out, down a side corridor, and we went . down different passages and whatnot, looking for anybody who might be trapped or still in there.

I remember looking down the corridor, you could see where part of the plane had come through the wall, and the firefighters wouldn`t let us in. They were scared the entire wall was going to collapse. You could still see a tire and some unrecognizable little small portion of the plane.

So we`re waiting there, waiting, waiting, waiting. Then the FBI showed up, started collecting evidence. We were still there. By this time we had pretty much lost hope that anybody was still alive in there, but we were still ready to go pull people out. And then finally after a while, it was like, we`re not getting this fire under control any time soon, so you all should just go out to the center courtyard instead of sitting in here and sucking all this smoke.

So we moved back out to the center court, still waiting for the word to move, go inside and pull people out. Now, remember at one point we could actually see through all the rings of the Pentagon and out, and we could see this fire truck. It was on the helipad, I guess. Like when the smoke wouldn`t move and everything, you could see the sunlight and a little piece of the fire truck. But most of the time, the smoke was so thick it just looked black.

It`s just, I don`t even know, a horrible feeling to know that you can`t do anything and know somebody could still be in there, trapped or unconscious, and you can`t do anything about it. That`s a really bad feeling.

[I was called to a medical meeting in South Parking.] I couldn`t believe the scene. The whole building was just collapsed, on fire, flames and everything, burnt out car wrecks . it was like a shock. I still couldn`t think straight. My head was just pounding from all the smoke, and I was really tired. But I was still kind of pumped up on adrenalin, I guess. I remember looking over, looking at the building all collapsed, all burnt out. It looked like the whole side was gone, and I knew it was even worse on the inside from firsthand experience. I could see the fire truck that I was looking at from the inside—now I could see it from the outside.

[In our meeting], they said, "We`re going to stay open 24 hours. We only need some people for out here, some people for the clinic." So I got with my supervisor and he said go home. . I was about to fall down out of my boots. . I just fell in bed and fell asleep, and I reported to duty at 0700 the next morning.

When that second plane was coming and I thought I was going to get, I thought I was dead, basically. . I kind of looked up and I said well, I`m through. And I wasn`t scared, even though I know I should have been, because there was no doubt in my mind that another plane was coming, and it was fixing to hit any second. It was kind of weird. It was just like, "Oh, well, I`m done." But I tried to do something.

For immediate release, Sept. 6, 2002.