Firefighters Remember Peers' Sacrifice And Heroism, 15 Years After 9/11

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Police, Fire And Harbormaster News

Firefighter Justin Tavano tolls the bell in honor of fallen comrades.  ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM Today's firefighters don't need to be reminded of the horror and heroism at the World Trade Center 15 years ago; it's part of their collective identity. But for the next generation of firefighters, born too late to remember the terror attacks, just outside the front door of the Chatham fire house there's a concrete reminder.

Steel, actually.

The torn and twisted floor beam from one of the Twin Towers has found its permanent home outside the new fire headquarters building, and it was the centerpiece of Sunday's commemoration of the disaster. Though it's been in the department's possession for several years now, the I-beam is now the focal point of the department's memorial garden. It's one of the finishing touches for the town's new firehouse, which cost about $10 million.

“But this piece of steel is priceless,” Fire Chief Michael Ambriscoe said.

Several dozen people gathered for the Sunday morning observance, which was led by Mark Heller, the department's EMS officer. He recalled 9/11 as an “evil day” like something out of a science fiction novel. While it is important to remember the tragedy, he admits that there's plenty he would rather forget. He said he would rather forget the fear and uncertainty and the evil of Sept. 11, while remembering the incredible acts of heroism.

“I lost 343 members of my extended family,” Heller said. Firefighters are special people who run toward danger when others run away, like New York firefighter Stephen Siller of Brooklyn's Squad One. On 9/11, Siller was off duty when the terror attack began. Driving back to Manhattan to help, he was stopped at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which had just been closed for security purposes. He strapped 60 pounds of gear to his back and raced on foot through the tunnel to the World Trade Center, where he gave up his life while saving others.

Police officers from the NYPD and the Port Authority Police also lost their lives that day, adding to the death toll of around 2,996 people.

“They were from families all over the world,” Heller said of the dead. “And that's why we're here today.”

Firefighters in many communities, including Harwich, also paused Sunday morning to remember 9/11.

Firefighter Justin Tavano, who read the Firefighter's Prayer and tolled Last Alarm on the bell, thanked those who made the memorial garden possible, including contractors and town officials, Escape Landscaping, and the students of the Cape Tech automotive shop who sandblasted and preserved the beam for outdoor display.

“We're very honored” to have the beam outside the fire station, Ambriscoe said. Since it's been on display, visitors have stopped to read the plaques and to pay their respects. Many of them reach out and touch the beam.

“They feel something when they do,” he said.