QUEENS, New York — Hangar 17 at John F. Kennedy International Airport holds no airplanes — only hundreds of untold stories of lives torn apart and piles of mutilated, disfigured steel that once formed the skeleton of the World Trade Center that was brought down by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.
A piece of that history was plucked from the “morgue” here Tuesday by members of the Brewer police and fire department.
The metal relic will become part of a permanent display at the new public safety facility on Parkway South in Brewer which will host a ribbon cutting ceremony to unveil the piece on Friday, Nov. 7. The public is invited to attend an outdoor ceremony today and watch as the steel arrives at the facility at 4 p.m.
The public safety building will be one of a handful of places in the country with a piece of the World Trade Center to share.
Nickerson & O’Day of Brewer is constructing the new $6.75 million police and fire station. The twin towers’ iconic demolished steel came to company President and CEO Karl Ward’s mind one day as the new Brewer facility was being built.
“I was driving down the road one day and had this crazy idea,” said Ward, a self-described big picture guy.
“When the steel started going up, it was eerily reminiscent of the photos from Sept. 11 of firefighters clamoring inside the ruins, looking for bodies,” Ward said of a day last January which sparked the “a-ha moment” to include a piece of the twin towers in the Brewer project.
“I thought, [Sept. 11] is the antithesis of [the construction]. That’s when it came to me. [Sept. 11] cost firefighters’ lives. [The new facility] will save lives,” said Ward, who accompanied the Brewer rescue personnel to New York to help select the historical piece of steel.
“Even though this won’t be the thing that holds up the roof, it will hopefully hold up people’s spirits,” he said.
Once installed for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and official unveiling next week, the hand-picked steel will be “positioned in a highly visible and public way,” Ward said.
Walking through the rows upon rows of remains, a piece “with a little character” struck Ward’s eye on Tuesday. He brought it to the attention of Brewer Fire Capt. Brent Melvin and Police Sgt. Rich Smith who were also touring the facility.
The 18-foot piece, which splits into three equally mangled protrusions and is tagged H-0085 for identification purposes, met with Melvin’s and Smith’s approval.
“It will add realism to the events of 9-11,” said Melvin, who is in his 20th year of service at the Brewer Fire Department. “Some of the people who arrived on those trucks didn’t go home. That’s the reality of it,” Melvin said referring to one room at the hangar brimming with demolished fire and police vehicles, most with smashed doors and charred engine numbers.
Both Melvin and Smith paused to reflect on the “last column,” a 62-ton beam that was the last piece of steel removed from ground zero in May 2002. The makeshift memorial, posted with photos of public service workers, many of whom lost their lives in the line of duty, is the only artifact that is being heavily restored according to conservationists working on the project in New York.
“It’s nice that instead of destroying [the artifacts], they’re preserving them and allowing us to bring pieces back to share with other people,” Smith said.
Ward felt the same way and said that ultimately it came down to saying “we will never forget” and saying “thank you” to the police and firefighters in Eastern Maine and beyond.
“Even though [service workers] in Brewer may not have known people personally, there’s this huge camaraderie and brotherhood because they all know what each other [does],” Ward said. “They knew what it must have been like. People up here felt that and haven’t forgotten. They remember the pit in their stomach.”