As Tom and I were driving to the D.C. Temple we noticed a crowd gathering in front of the Kensington Volunteer Fire Department's Station 5 house. Afterwards, I Googled the station to see what had been going on there, and discovered they were dedicating a 9/11 memorial. We stopped by and two of Station 5's members were gracious enough to give me a interview. Gracious with their time, John E. Thompson and Jean Ward provided living examples of the spirit engrained in these first-responders. Here is the story.
The events of 9/11 are deeply personal to the volunteer firefighters who call Kensington Maryland's Station 5 “home.” When hijackers crashed a plane into the Pentagon, Station 5’s members gathered at the house, overcrowded their ambulance and engine, and raced to the scene, rescuing the wounded, recovering the dead, and battling the fires at the emblem of America’s military might.
James Stanton, KVFD fire chief is understandably proud of his crew. “We didn't have to call them. We didn't have to send out a page. They knew they were needed, and they showed up."
Days later, Station 5 volunteers responded to another 9/11 need when a request arrived from New York City for help at the embattled World Trade Center site where thousands perished when two hijacked planes brought the Twin Towers down.
Speaking of that call for help, Master Firefighter John E. Thompson, a 43-year veteran of the KVFD said, “We were asked to provide an engine company and an ambulance, and we were there for several days. . . They had to fight the guys off because everyone wanted to go.”
A small crowd gathered Saturday, June 25, at Kensington Volunteer Fire Department’s Station 5 for the dedication of a very special set of monuments. 16-foot twisted beam of steel juts from an inscribed black base which reads:
“THIS TWISTED AND SCARRED PIECE OF STEEL FROM THE POINT OF IMPACT AT THE WORLD TRADE CENTER ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 MEMORIALIZES THE 2976 PERSONS LOST THAT DAY IN NEW YORK CITY, THE PENTAGON, AND SHANKSVILLE, PA. IT ALSO SERVES AS AN ENDURING TESTAMENT TO THE AMERICAN SPIRIT. WE SHALL NEVER FORGET. GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”
Nearby, a piece of granite, pulled from the point of impact at the Pentagon, rests upon a similar base inscribed with these words:
“FROM THE POINT OF IMPACT ON THE FAÇADE OF THE PENTAGON, DAMAGED BY THE TERRORIST ATTACKS OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001. WE REMEMBER THE 184 CITIZENS WHO SACRIFICED THEIR LIVES THERE THAT DAY SO THAT WE MAY LIVE IN FREEDOM. WE SALUTE THE KFVD UNITS AND THE REST OF THE COUNTRY WHO RESPONDED TO THIS TRAGEDY.”
The half million dollar memorial project, the vision of KVFD President Steven R. Semler, was funded through donations and volunteer labor. The 9/11 Families Association assisted Station 5 in acquiring the beam. “This beam is from the point of impact between the 91st and 94th floors. It was given to us by the Port Authority of New York City and the 9/11 Families Association. We went up there, picked it out and brought it back,” said John E. Thompson. The Department of Defense provided the block of granite from the Pentagon.
Steve Heidenberger, president of Heidenberger Construction, served as project manager, reaching out into the community for contractors willing to contribute materials and labor. For Heidenberger, the project was deeply personal. His brother, Tom Heidenberger, lost his wife Michelle at the attack on the Pentagon. Steve Heidenberger said he wanted the memorial to be built from volunteer labor and goods, not money. His brother Tom hopes the memorial will also serve to teach future generations about 9/11. Said he, "They're going to ask, 'Mommy, daddy, what is this? Each of us will be able to explain to them what happened and the thousands of people who lost their lives that day."
Following speeches and the dedication of the monuments, a 3500 pound bell, one of the “Bells of Remembrance,” inscribed with the names of the firefighters who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks, was rung in commemoration.
The monuments rest upon a red brick patio that pulls visitors out of the bustle. Gray bricks are interspersed throughout, engraved with the names of the contractors who contributed to the project. For a gift of $100, private individuals can have their own names or a message inscribed on a brick as a permanent remembrance. “The money raised [from the sale of the bricks] goes back to the 9/11 Families’ Association and other similar charitable efforts.”
In 2005 the firehouse was also invited to serve as the site one of four test rose gardens. The rose bushes are grown to determine climate hardiness for specific varieties being considered for three memorial rose gardens in New York City, Washington D.C., and Shanksville, PA. Several of the varieties are named specifically to commemorate 9/11 with names such as “Veterans’ Honor” “Firefighters,” “Forty Heroes,” and “September Mourn.” Jean Ward, a lifetime member of the fire company, and caretaker of the rose garden, explained why roses were being chosen for the planned memorial gardens. “Because the rose is a sign of remembrance.”
With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 fast approaching, many remembrances will occur as Americans pause to reflect on the greatest attack on the Continental U.S. since the devastation of Washington during the war of 1812. This one is right in our nieghborhood, and worth a moment to stop, reflect and remember.
Families and organizations interested in buying a brick can submit requests to https://kvfd.engravedbricks.com/.