Ohio communities claim steel from 9/11

Nationwide, more than 900 public agencies have applied for a bit of the WTC rubble

By Dean Narciso and Elizabeth Gibson
The Columbus Dispatch

NORWICH, Ohio — Norwich Township Firefighter Jeff Morales spent five days manhandling steel, working the bucket line and choking back dust and emotions at Ground Zero.

The Brooklyn native had relatives and childhood memories there.

"I took it hard, became emotional," he recalled. "I just felt the need to go."

Yesterday, after most of his colleagues left a ceremony to welcome more than 6 tons of steel for a Hilliard 9/11 memorial, Morales, 46, kept his work gloves on to help unload a twisted subway rail, an I-beam shredded like paper and a massive girder used at the base of the second World Trade Center building that collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.

A few days ago, the metal was among the more than 1,000 pieces of wreckage stored by the New Jersey Port Authority in an airport hangar.

Public agencies can apply for free pieces of steel, but they have to arrange their own transportation.

Westerville was the first of 54 Ohio agencies to apply. It picked a piece up for its First Responder Park in August. Hilliard and the Ohio Fire Chief's Association in Columbus were the only other central Ohio applicants in the Port Authority's records.

Nationwide, more than 900 public agencies have applied for a bit of the rubble; about 50 have taken delivery.

But that doesn't mean the Port Authority will run out anytime soon.

The pieces range from scraps to 10-ton chunks, and crews have begun cutting down some of the larger pieces, said Port Authority spokesman Steve Colman.

Hilliard sent 12 police officers in six cruisers to retrieve steel for its First Responders Park, which is under construction along Main Street. The convoy for the 1,200-mile round trip also included eight firefighters in four trucks.

Naturally, the question of the expense came up, Police Chief Doug Francis said.

Each city employee paid his own way. Fuel and maintenance costs were paid by the city. The flatbed truck and driver were donated by Bulk Transit of Plain City.

The convoy also brought back pieces of steel requested by Cleveland Heights and Macedonia in northeastern Ohio.

In Westerville, Firefighter Thomas Ullom had been trying to bring a memento home since shortly after the towers fell. He already had been working on a memorial for firefighters, inspired when his friend Dave Theisen died fighting a fire.

Ullom, the parks supervisor and the mayor paid their own way to pick up Westerville's piece of steel. They selected an 181/2-foot-long, 2.3-ton section from right above where the plane hit the first tower.

"We found a piece that looked like it had been through hell," Ullom said. "It was all bent and twisted. It showed the impact and horror of the day."

Ullom said he expects Westerville's First Responders Park to be completed by July, although city officials haven't decided whether to wait until Sept. 11 to unveil the metal.

Hilliard will dedicate its First Responders Park on Sept. 11.

The Port Authority also just approved a request by the Ohio Fire and Emergency Services Foundation, a division of the Ohio Fire Chief's Association.

Tom Wallace, the foundation's chairman, said he's hoping for a piece a few feet long that could be displayed at the association's offices near Polaris.

For him, the steel is symbolic of all the firefighters lost that day, and it should be carried as reverently as the bodies of firefighters pulled from the rubble.

"That day, most every one of us watched our brothers die on TV," he said. "We know the procedures. We knew they were in there when the buildings fell. You just thought, 'Oh God, how many died?'

"That gets you. If it doesn't, you're not a human being."

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