Lakewood and University Place firefighters broke ground Tuesday on a memorial that will honor the memories of 343 firefighters they consider part of a brotherhood – those who died on the other side of the country, on Sept. 11, 2001.
“For the fire service, it (9/11) was a watershed moment,” Ken Sharp, chief of West Pierce Fire and Rescue, said in front of a crowd gathered for the dedication. “This is more than a West Pierce event, this is an event for all of us.”
The 9/11 Reflection Park, which will occupy the front lawn of Station 31 in University Place, will center on a piece of steel from the World Trade Center. The station received the artifact last year as part of the New York Port Authority’s ongoing effort to establish Sept. 11 memorials nationwide.
West Pierce is not the only local fire agency to bring back a relic from New York. Last year, a group from Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One retrieved a 1,000-pound steel beam; there are plans for a memorial garden.
West Pierce firefighter and paramedic Greg Reimann was part of the crew that brought the 500-pound piece of steel back from New York.
“We were extremely honored to be asked to retrieve the steel,” Reimann said. “It’s a huge deal to us. The trip was very emotional.”
Reimann was one of five West Pierce firefighters to make the trip to New York City last September to pick up the steel while attending the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks. On their journey back west, Reimann and his colleagues made stops at fire stations in Pittsburgh and Chicago.
“Those guys were very appreciative,” Reimann said. “Their hospitality was beyond any other.”
As the steel section made its way across America, it attracted a fan base far more diverse than just firefighters. Reimann said 15-minute stops for gas quickly turned into half-hour photo sessions, with parents teaching children born after 9/11 the significance of the metal.
Eventually, the steel arrived at its current location at 3631 Drexler Drive W., where an eager crowd greeted it. West Pierce began planning for the 9/11 Reflection Park soon after.
The project is estimated to cost $300,000, funded completely by donations. Along with the steel, the memorial will feature a firefighter cross, a ceremonial bell and flag station, a reflection wall, a bronze statue and a plaza with the names of donors etched on the bricks.
While the fire district has not yet reached its goal, the project has been spurred by community donations, including $50,000 from West Pierce employees.
Construction for the 9/11 Reflection Park is set to begin Saturday, with a target completion date of Sept. 11.
West Pierce Fire and Rescue started operating in March 2011, after Lakewood residents voted to dissolve their 70-year-old fire district and merge with UP’s district.