New York firefighters presented on Monday to Danville firefighters a six-foot steel I-beam from the collapse on Sept. 11, 2001, of the World Trade Center twin towers.
The twisted steel, however, marked more than the events of 9/11. It also marked a friendship that has developed between the two groups.
“This piece of steel is very important to us,” said Paul Ruckdeschel of the New York Fire Department’s Marine Company 1. “Thankfully, out of tragedy there is always some good that comes out.”
With that, Ruckdeschel went on to talk about the brotherhood among firefighters, and specifically the brotherhood established with the Danville firefighters who came to New York to assist in the aftermath of 9/11.
“I remember after the attacks, the next few weeks were all kind of crazy,” Ruckdeschel said. “You didn’t know who was coming and who was going. There were people from all over wanting to help out and wanting to do things for you.”
Among those who were there were Danville firefighters Randee Brown, Ray Earp, Steve Finkner, Ken Jones, Steve New, John Quinn and Billy Scearce.
“Every one of those people came up and did time and helped us out in the rescue and recovery of that tragic day,” Ruckdeschel said. “I want all of you to embrace this steel because it does mean a lot to us to give it to you.”
Marine 1 was the first unit formed in New York to conduct fire and rescue operations along the waterways that surround the city. The 25 members of this unit operate a large fireboat for response to structure fires along the shoreline, and they operate a smaller rapid response boat for calls involving small vessels or people in the water.
Inscribed on a patch that identifies this unit are the following words: “Never Forget 9-11-01.”
Danville Fire Chief David Eagle acknowledged the importance of those words during the presentation of the steel I-beam at a ceremony at Bridge Street Fire Station.
“We are humbled that you would bring forth a piece of history,” Eagle told city leaders and firefighters who had gathered for the ceremony. “It is something that we can have as a constant remembrance of that day, of those who tragically lost their lives, and those who lost their life serving others.
“We plan on using this piece of steel in a way that you guys can be proud of and that our community can reflect upon.”
The I-beam will be on display at the new public safety center that will be built on Lynn Street.
Since 9/11, a friendship has been forged between Danville firefighters and the firefighters of Marine 1.
Scearce, a Danville fire captain, said that friendship developed from a memorial service and reunion that was held one year after 9/11. Scearce and Jones attended. “Without reservations for a room or any idea where we would stay, we grabbed our Class A’s (dress uniforms) and bags, and we went,” Scearce said.
Then with tears in his eyes, he said, “We were welcomed. We walked through the door. They shook our hands. They hugged us and said ‘put your gear aside, you are staying with us.’”
While there, Scearce said they noticed photos on a wall that showed the Marine 1 firefighters at a race track. “We got to talking racing, and we realized we had a love for the same sport along with a love for what we did for a living.”
Scearce and Jones invited the firefighters to attend the NASCAR races the following year at Martinsville. Several firefighters made that trip from New York.
“You (citizens of Danville) welcomed them, and they have been coming ever since,” Scearce said. “We have a relationship formed out of tragedy, and now it is a relationship of love and friendship. For that I am thankful.”
Mayor Sherman Saunders thanked the Marine 1 firefighters for presenting the memorial, and he said Danville is grateful for the service of firefighters everywhere.
“Anywhere you see them, they are there to put their lives on the line every day,” Saunders said. “Danville is honored to have you (Marine 1 firefighters) to come here and present this memorial.”
The new public safety center will be built on Lynn Street, where salvage, demolition and cleanup efforts continue on the former Danville Lumber and Manufacturing Co. site. Construction of the center is expected to begin later this year.