Firefighters hope to get World Trade Center steel for NJ monument

Pieces of steel from the ruins of the World Trade Center have marked memorials in other parts of the country

By Darran Simon
The Philadelphia Inquirer

MEDFORD LAKES, N.J. — A 10-foot-long piece of steel recovered from the World Trade Center would be perfect.

But Medford Lakes Fire Chief Dennis Staples will be grateful for whatever piece of steel the borough gets for the centerpiece of a memorial honoring victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which officials hope will be finished just in time for the 10th anniversary.

The memorial will be the focal point of a renovated Memorial Circle, which honors veterans and the borough's first mayor, Leon Todd.

"To be able to display a piece of steel from the World Trade Center locally would be a real honor for us and the community as well," said Staples, a Cinnaminson firefighter and emergency medical technician who leads the volunteer Medford department.

The borough will get the steel through the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the September 11th Families' Association, a nonprofit that supports victims of terrorism, among other causes.

A few years ago, the Families' Association helped start the Tribute WTC Visitor Center, which commemorates the terrorist attacks of 1993 and 2001.

Staples and members of the 9/11 memorial committee hope to raise $50,000 for their project, which includes new landscaping, cobblestone-textured concrete in the circle, entry steps with railings, and a plaque honoring 9/11 victims.

The committee will sell engraved bricks that will be incorporated in a walkway in Memorial Circle, at Minnetonka Trail and Stokes Road.

"It's kind of become the center of town for remembrance, and we thought it would be an appropriate place," Staples said.

Pieces of steel from the ruins of the World Trade Center have marked memorials in other parts of the country.

Recently, 7.5 tons of steel from the site was used in building the USS New York, a hulking amphibious assault ship.

Staples said the size of the steel the Medford Lakes memorial would receive had not yet been determined.

The quiet borough has a distant connection to 9/11: Three firefighters, all borough natives, were stationed in Manhattan and Brooklyn in 2001. The three were not working on Sept. 11, but lost more than 15 coworkers among them.

"It touched the lives of people in Medford Lakes," said borough native Mike Thomas, who lost four peers from Engine Co. 201 in Brooklyn. "It's like a modern-day Pearl Harbor for our generation."

Thomas, 44, was closest to Greg Buck, one of his fallen comrades. In 1995, Thomas and Buck were stationed at Engine Co. 201 in Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood, fresh out of the fire academy.

Thomas and the two other borough natives — Jeffrey Johnston and Robert Dereskewicz — have since been promoted to lieutenants, and the trio now work in other Fire Department of New York stations, Thomas said.

The Medford Lakes effort isn't solely a fire department project, Staples said.

Community members, police, and EMTs are on the 9/11 memorial committee, said Staples, 34. The chair, a volunteer firefighter who owns a pool and spa business, created the conceptual drawing of the memorial and renovated Memorial Circle using his work software, Staples said.

And the committee is seeking volunteer labor from borough groups, he said.

"At the end of the day, we want to say that the community really came together to make this happen," Staples said.

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