Metal Fabricating
Tuesday | 22 November, 2011 | 10:27 am

Sacred steel

By Meghan Boyer

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Students fabricate a memorial using 9/11 steel for a New Jersey firehouse

Students fabricate a memorial using 9/11 steel for a New Jersey firehouse

November 2011- In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, communities and organizations across the country have created their own monuments to mark the events of that day and the lives lost. As of August, there were more than 700 recorded memorials in the United States, according to CNBC. Many of them contain remnants of the towers themselves.

Some 1,100 pieces of 9/11 wreckage, typically steel girders, have been made available for memorials, according to CNBC. A hanger at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York houses the remains of the Twin Towers, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey receives and approves requests for the pieces.


The Carteret Fire Department in Carteret, N.J., did not have a plan in place for its piece of 9/11 steel prior to receiving it, says Captain Mark Hruska, president of Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association Local #67. Then he remembered a teacher named Joseph Gess from roughly 10 years earlier when his daughter attended the Piscataway Campus of the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical High Schools. “I remembered him and some of the projects he had worked on. There was one in particular that was breathtaking. It was an eagle that the kids made during the school year of 2000 to 2001,” says Hruska.

In addition to general academic programs, the school has 22 entry-level and advanced occupational training programs. Student’s attend the school to learn hands-on work skills and can choose from a variety of career majors, including automotive technology and design and fabrication.

The fire department reached out to the school and asked officials if Gess and his students would be able to fabricate a memorial from the steel. Gess and eleven students took on the project, ultimately creating a lasting memorial the department installed in front of its headquarters and learning more about the national tragedy in the process.

Creating the memorial
Fabricating a project using 9/11 steel is different from working with a regular piece of metal. “That steel to us is a sacred piece,” says Hruska.

The department received a steel spandrel, which is a connecting piece between two beams for support. When Gess first looked at the piece, the way it was bent reminded him of a flag waving in the wind. In creating the design of the memorial, Gess was not allowed to cut the 9/11 steel, but he could drill holes in it. “We tried to pay that piece of steel as much respect as we could,” says Gess, noting the students even collected and saved the drill debris from the piece.

The memorial’s design incorporates the uncut 9/11 steel as a flag, which waves behind an eagle’s head. “If you look at the eagle’s head, you will see that it has a tear coming out of its eye,” says Gess. The eagle “is a powerful symbol, a symbol of our country. The tear coming out of his eye is because a lot of people shed a lot of tears that day.” Gess also incorporated some polished aluminum diamond plate into the memorial to represent fire vehicles.

“I am blessed with many, many tools and pieces of equipment in the program. We used every one of them,” including roll forming, plasma cutting and MIG and TIG welding equipment, says Gess.

The students worked on the project for roughly three months. As they fabricated the memorial, the students learned about the different first responders who died on 9/11. “Talking about a victim or a hero, it became very personal for them,” says Gess. “We looked at all their faces and we saw our own brothers and our own fathers and some people’s sons that died on that tragic day.”

The students were roughly seven and eight years old on Sept. 11, 2001, notes Hruska. “Not only was it a learning experience of the hands-on technical training, they were learning about the event,” he says.

Honor and respect
The project was very personal for the students, who volunteered not only their class time but also some of their free time to the memorial. They would work on the project during shop hours and off hours to ensure they completed it in the required timeline, says Gess.

When the students finished working on the project, the Carteret Fire Department put together a motorcade to transport the memorial and the students the roughly 21 miles from the school to the firehouse. “We had a long line of procession, and the kids got to ride in the fire trucks,” says Hruska. “The piece was transported in an open trailer that was adorned with flags, and we had a big ceremony when we got back to fire headquarters for the placement of the unit.”

The Saint Barnabas Burn Foundation in nearby Livingston, N.J., is honoring the students and Gess at the organization’s awards ceremony this fall, where they will receive awards for outstanding civic participation. The award typically is given only to firefighters, but the organization wanted to honor the students’ work on the memorial, says Linda M. Russo, the principal at Piscataway. “We do a lot of community projects here in school, but this one, while it’s a community project, it’s really national in importance,” she says.

The memorial has been well-received by the firefighters, the community and those who visit the community. Representatives of the New York City Fire Department were on hand during the memorial’s placement ceremony, “and they said they had been to hundreds of these, but this by far was the most moving,” says Hruska.

“The big message to take away from this from the worker standpoint is the fact of how much impact their work has on people’s lives,” says Hruska. “Oftentimes, at least I have found in the trades, especially the service industry, the contribution by the worker goes unnoticed.” The students using their metalworking skills to create this memorial, however, touched countless lives in a positive way, he says. “Twenty to thirty years from now, these kids will be able to bring their kids back [to the memorial in front of the fire house], walk by and be able to say, ‘We worked on this. We built this.’” FFJ


  • Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School
    phone: 732/985-0717
    Piscataway, N.J.

Last modified on Thursday | 23 February, 2012 | 11:20 am

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  • Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School
    phone: 732/985-0717
    Piscataway, N.J.


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