Artifact pays homage to 9/11 firefighters

By: Kristyne E. Demske | Shelby - Utica News | Published February 28, 2011

 Shelby Township Fire Chief Gene Shepherd stands with the piece of I-beam from the World Trade Center towers the department received as a grant.

Shelby Township Fire Chief Gene Shepherd stands with the piece of I-beam from the World Trade Center towers the department received as a grant.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — A red-letter day in American history will be remembered for posterity locally now that a piece of the World Trade Center towers has a new home in Fire Station No. 1.

The Shelby Township Fire Department received part of an I-beam recovered from the Twin Towers Feb. 15, about 15 months after Chief Gene Shepherd applied for a grant to house one of the historical objects in the township.

“We patiently waited,” Shepherd said. “The fire services is like a big brotherhood, and knowing that we could pay homage to those 343 men and women (firefighters) that passed away … it just seemed fitting to be able to do that. It was an honor to be able to be chosen.”

Shepherd said that the artifact the department received is about 24 inches long and 24 inches high. The 80-pound piece came from a beam that supported the World Trade Center before two planes crashed into it Sept. 11, 2001.

“When we opened up the box … it was kind of quiet. I think everybody was kind of reflecting on where they were or memories of when the building collapsed,” said Fire Inspector Eddie Vojtush. “When Gene asked me to work on the base and helping to work on the display, obviously, my thoughts were, ‘We want to make sure that we’re displaying it in a manner that gives it the perspective it deserves.”

“It was catalogued and cut and placed in the JFK airport (in New York) for a number of years,” Shepherd said, adding that the Port Authority has jurisdiction over the pieces and chose about 1,000 different locations throughout the country to receive a piece of history. “They shipped it here and … we got it and instantly put it on display.”

Vojtush and other firefighters are working with local companies to have a granite base built for the beam, which will be inscribed with a description of what it is and where it was from.

He said the base would be about 30 by 18 inches so that it is large enough “to make sure that we describe the significance of the piece.”

“It is quite significant. We are honored,” he added. “We want to give it the respect that it deserves.”

He said they are seeking donations of granite from local companies, and he believes another company has volunteered to etch the stone for the department, as well.

“It really is something special,” Vojtush said. “This is the 10th anniversary, so obviously … we’ll probably do something special right around 9/11.”

The piece is in a temporary stand in a 4-by-6-foot display case at Fire Station No. 1, 6345 23 Mile Road.

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