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Published: Friday, 6/17/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

I-BEAM HEADS FOR WAUSEON

Salvaged WTC girder passes through Toledo

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo Fire Department Chief Mike Wolever sits next to the flag-draped I-beam from the World Trade Center as it travels from New York through Toledo to Wauseon, Ohio. Toledo Fire Department Chief Mike Wolever sits next to the flag-draped I-beam from the World Trade Center as it travels from New York through Toledo to Wauseon, Ohio.
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What might have been just an ordinary steel beam drew thoughtful, almost reverent, looks Friday as it sat upon a trailer in downtown Toledo, draped with a U.S. flag.

“I kind of want to touch it. I kind of don’t. It’s just overwhelming,” said onlooker Tricia North, a New Jersey native who remembers passing by the World Trade Center towers in New York for years and remembers the day nearly 10 years ago that they fell to the ground.

The 12-foot beam, salvaged from the Twin Towers’ rubble, was transported in a procession of emergency vehicles through Toledo and on Friday night to the Wauseon Fire Department, where it will be on display until a permanent memorial to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is erected at the Fulton County Fairgrounds.

“It all comes back to everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing that day,” Wauseon Assistant Fire Chief Rick Sluder said. “It changed the way police and fire do business. It changed the security factor of our nation. It changed everyone’s lives.

“Everywhere we go,” he said, “people come up and touch it.”

Monica and Richard Steele came downtown with their three young children to see the procession and the 3,615-pound beam. Mrs. Steele said the reason was simple: “Because it’s part of history, and I’ll never make it to New York.”

Monica Steele, her son Tristan, and husband Richard Steele of Toledo came to see the steel girder that was transported through Toledo Friday on its way to Wauseon. Monica Steele, her son Tristan, and husband Richard Steele of Toledo came to see the steel girder that was transported through Toledo Friday on its way to Wauseon.
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Toledo Fire Capt. Rick Syroka, along with fellow firefighters Gerald Takats and David Meegan, traveled to Ground Zero six days after the Sept. 11 attacks to help dig through the dusty rubble in search of body parts and personal effects.

Seeing the steel beam Friday brought back the images seared into his memory after a week in New York.

“In the back of my mind, I wonder, did I ever walk on that? Did I ever crawl on that?” Captain Syroka said. “Who knows? The scope of iron and steel that came out of that — so much, so large, so twisted.”

Mr. Meegan, now retired, said the scenes before them and the work of digging for victims was, in a word, “horrible.” The destruction was hard to fathom.

“I remember sitting on a beam with Rick and Jerry and looking around saying, ‘Where are the desks? Where are the chairs? Where are the computers?’?” he said. “All that was left of the building was what we could see above ground.”

Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, the city’s former fire chief, said the simple steel beam represents how life can change in an instant.

“For me, it reminds me why we have to constantly remain vigilant, that our world has changed and we definitely have to be aware of our surroundings at all times,” he said.

Some 1,500 communities across the country requested and received artifacts from the World Trade Center to use in Sept. 11 memorials. In Wauseon, Assistant Chief Sluder applied for an artifact from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey more than two years ago.

Richard Browne, left, of the Perrysburg Fire Department explains markings on the beam to Toledo Fire Department Chief Mike Wolever, center, and Lucas County Sheriff James Telb. Officer Browne went to New York with Wauseon officers to pick up the girder. Richard Browne, left, of the Perrysburg Fire Department explains markings on the beam to Toledo Fire Department Chief Mike Wolever, center, and Lucas County Sheriff James Telb. Officer Browne went to New York with Wauseon officers to pick up the girder.
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On Tuesday, he and other firefighters drove to New York, where they visited the Tribute WTC Visitor Center and, later, Hangar 17 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where the port authority has been storing vehicles and structural steel salvaged from the destruction. Assistant Chief Sluder said they drove the beam to Medina, Ohio, Thursday night, then headed home Friday morning, passing through towns like Norwalk, Clyde, Bellevue, and Fremont before reaching Toledo about 12:45 p.m.

Once downtown, they were greeted by a canopy created by two ladder trucks holding a giant U.S. flag. Firefighters standing at attention in front of the Michael P. Bell Fire Administration Building lined North Huron Street.

There were no speeches or proclamations, just “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a bugler playing “Taps,” and the familiar sound of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes and drums. The brief ceremony ended with three rings of the fire bell — the last alarm for fallen firefighters.

Retired Toledo Fire Chief Robert Schwanzl said the traditions associated with memorial services for firefighters were appropriate as those gathered paid tribute to those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, including more than 300 firefighters.

“The whole thing is dedicated to the idea that the fire service will never forget,” he said. “It’s the brotherhood of firemen.”

The remains of the World Trade Center stands amid the debris following the terrorist attack on the building in New York  in this Sept. 11, 2001, file photo. Steel pieces from the building are being sent around the country to be part of memorials, one of which will be in Wauseon, Oho. The remains of the World Trade Center stands amid the debris following the terrorist attack on the building in New York in this Sept. 11, 2001, file photo. Steel pieces from the building are being sent around the country to be part of memorials, one of which will be in Wauseon, Oho.
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Mr. Schwanzl, who is president of the Toledo Firefighters’ Museum, said the museum is trying to get a memento from one of the fire trucks destroyed Sept. 11.

The city of Perrysburg, which sent two police officers to New York to assist in the wake of the terrorist attacks, recently received a smaller piece of the Trade Center wreckage — a bent and rusted, 3-foot, 15-pound piece of a steel door casing.

“It had been crumpled, destroyed, and burned,” said Jon Eckel, Perrysburg’s public service director. “Outwardly you look at it and think it may not look like much, but the symbolic meaning is very deep. … You wonder, where was this, and how many people may or may not have gotten through that door.”

Perrysburg is building a display case to hold the relic, which will be placed in the atrium that connects the police department and the municipal building.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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