By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette June 15, 2011
NIAGARA FALLS — At first glance it looks like nothing more than a piece of steel and concrete lying on a wooden pallet.
But it is so much more than that.
“That’s a piece of American history sitting there.” Falls Fire Department Capt. Frank Guthrie said Tuesday afternoon.
What left Guthrie and other city firefighters standing quietly inside Fire Station 8 on Royal Avenue, lost in their own thoughts, was a section of one of the girders from one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The artifact came to the Falls Fire Department from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.
The authority operated the World Trade Center and has been the caretaker of the remains that were recovered from ground zero.
“It’s pretty moving,” Battalion Chief Dan Boland said as he looked at the beam for the first time. “It helped hold up a building where thousands of citizens and 30 firefighters were killed. I thought it would look different, but nobody had any idea what (the artifact) would be.”
The gift from the port authority came after a request from former Fire Chief William MacKay who responded to the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11. He had also pointed out that two Falls firefighters were there when the trade center towers came down.
Veteran fire department Captains Dave Williams and John Asklar were in Manhattan on the day of the World Trade Center attacks attending a firefighters school. Williams passed away in 2007 after suffering from an illness that developed shortly after he returned from his New York City service.
Asklar is still an active captain in the department.
“Bill had asked for a piece (of the trade center towers) and then he retired and it kind of went by the side,” Battalion Chief John Frosolone said. “Then a letter came in from the port authority that said we were awarded an artifact from the World Trade Center.”
Frosolone, one of three battalion chiefs who have been administering the fire department since MacKay left, made it his mission to see the former chief’s dream realized. MacKay envisioned using the artifact, along with a pair of large cast-iron fire alarm bells from the late 1800s, to design a new city firefighters memorial outside the Royal Avenue station.
“It was quite a journey to get it here,” Frosolone said. “Lots of emails and phone calls.”
Boland, who was recently in New York City, said port authority officials asked if he wanted to take the beam back the Falls.
“I said, ‘Yes,’ until they told me it weighed 3,700 pounds,” Boland said. “That’s more than my SUV weights.”
Frosolone, who retires from the department on Saturday, worried he might not get the beam here in time.
“This is something I wanted to finish,” he said.
A group of school children was touring the fire station when the girder arrived. None of them were alive when the trade center attacks occurred but firefighters brought them over to the beam and let them touch it.
“They got to see a piece of history and touch it,” Frosolone said. “You look at how massive (thick) it is and it takes you back to when those towers came down like a house of cards.”
Frosolone, Guthrie, Battalion Chief Pat Brown and the young firefighters under their command at the fire hall all remembered being glued to television sets as the 9/11 tragedy unfolded.
“We watched on TVs in our classrooms,” said Firefighter Dave Seguin, who was just 13 at the time. “There was kind of like a halt to everything.”
As the towers collapsed Guthrie recalled he wasn’t even sure what was happening in the clouds of dust and debris.
“When those towers fell, I said hundreds of firefighters just got killed,” Frosolone remembered. “It was a pretty horrible day that day.”
Now a group of architecture and design students from Niagara University will work to construct a fitting memorial using the trade center beam and the historic fire house alarm bells.
While the girder looks unremarkable in its present state, Frosolone said no one can forget where it came from.
“You gotta think, how much blood was on that stone,” he said. “Who was leaning on that beam, when it went down.”
Added Guthrie, “It speaks for itself.”