MANATEE — It was an eerie coincidence.
Representatives of Southern Manatee Fire & Rescue were loading up their truck, preparing to head to New Jersey to pick up a beam from the fallen World Trade Center, when the station received an emergency call Wednesday morning.
Fire engine T-343 responded, an irony not lost on Fire Chief Foster Gover. The number of firefighters who lost their lives in the collapse of the twin towers during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, numbered 343.
Emotion was high as well-wishers gathered at Station No. 4, located between Peridia and Sabal Harbour in the 5200 block of 45th Street East to see the representatives off.
The team’s mission was to pick up a 12-foot beam — a salvaged window column — and return it to Manatee County, where it will be made into a memorial to the firefighters and all the other innocent lives lost in the attack.
The beam would be the first piece of the World Trade Center installed in either Manatee and Sarasota.
“It’s going to be overwhelming seeing all the material in the hangar,” said Bradly Ranney, one of a four-member team making the trip.
Ranney will use his welding skills to cut the beam into two pieces when it is returned to Manatee County. The proposed memorial will rise vertically from an auburn-colored metal base and include a granite backdrop with a description of the 911 tragedy and a metal silhouette of an airplane. The Pentagon will be represented by an aluminum structure. All materials and labor have been donated.
Also making the trip are Ranney’s father, Fire Commissioner Brad Ranney; Dallas Leitner, an out-of-work architect who designed the memorial; and firefighter Ryan Kaliher.
Brad Ranney said the project touches something deep in every firefighter.
“This is coming from the heart. It’s an honor and a privilege. This is a piece of American history,” he said.
Gover said his department just learned within the past week that it had been approved to receive the beam under a program authorized by the Port Authority of New Jersey/New York.
“It gives you goose bumps just to talk about it,” Gover said.
“This idea came from one of our firefighters. All of us remember the horrors of 911 and this sculpture has been designed to incorporate all of the elements of that tragic day. In a Pennsylvania field, at the Towers in New York City and the Pentagon, America lost many loved ones and this memorial ties all of those pieces together in one tribute. It will be permanently installed for all of our community to see,” Gover said.
The outpouring of support has been overwhelming, Brad Ranney said. Already law enforcement and motorcycle groups are signed on to escort the Southern Manatee truck and trailer from New Jersey to Bradenton.
The crew is scheduled to return to Bradenton 8 p.m. Sunday. A welcome home celebration is planned at Firkin & Fox Restaurant, 2505 Manatee Ave. E., with a live band. The public is invited.
The memorial will be in the Southern Manatee Fire and Rescue administration building, 2451 Trailmate Drive. It is scheduled to be dedicated on Sept. 11.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.