, Salem, MA

September 7, 2011

In a piece of steel, Salem firefighters make a connection

By Matthew K. Roy
Staff writer

SALEM — A week after the towers fell, Manny Ataide joined the Army.

He was angry about the attacks and felt he had to do something. His ensuing service in the Reserves spanned eight years and included two deployments to Iraq, in 2003 and 2004.

Even after all that, Sept. 11, 2001, kept pushing Ataide to act. The Salem firefighter recently researched and found a way to bring a piece of that historic, world-altering event to his home city.

It is a steel sliver of the World Trade Center wreckage — 3 feet tall, it weighs about 100 pounds. Before arriving here, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had stored it with the other twisted and charred debris from the tragedy in a hangar at Kennedy International Airport.

The steel is the centerpiece of a 9/11 memorial that Ataide and fellow firefighter Tom Brophy have worked to create in a narrow patch of soil beside the city's downtown fire station. It will be formally dedicated during a ceremony Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

Though the two friends spearheaded the memorial, it turned into a labor of love for the whole department. Everyone was quick to donate time or materials to make it happen.

"It's amazing what we've got done in so little time," Brophy said. "If we didn't get the support from all the guys, then this thing would never have happened."

Brophy, 35, was a department dispatcher 10 years ago. He was trying to get some sleep after an overnight shift on the morning of Sept. 11 when his father roused him, saying, "You got to see this."

He remembers how quiet it was outside all day. No cars were on the road. Everybody was glued to their television.

At the urging of his father, a deputy fire chief who has since retired, Brophy used art to express solidarity with the New York City firefighters. He painted a large replica of the NYFD logo for the Salem station, which prominently featured the towers in its outline of New York's skyline.

If Brophy is the department's artist, then Ataide, 32, is its unofficial historian, collecting old photos and newspaper articles about the Salem Fire Department. But Ataide, who has been with the department for almost four years, didn't want the memorial to focus exclusively on firefighters.

"I tried to stay away from the number 343," Ataide said, referring to how many firefighters died on Sept. 11. "There were many people who died that day, not just the firefighters. ... (The memorial) is for everyone."

It is why the plaque will refer to what happened in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa. Ataide hopes it draws the attention of some of the crowds headed to Salem this fall for the city's annual Haunted Happenings festivities.

Its location makes the memorial one of the more conspicuous local remembrances. In Peabody, the city built a small memorial park in a quiet neighborhood off Route 114. On Grandview Avenue, it is one door down from the former home of Janis Lasden and honors Lasden and Christine Barbuto of West Peabody. Both were aboard American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center.

Outside the Peabody Institute Library in Danvers is a bench dedicated to the memory of former resident Karen Martin, a flight attendant on Flight 11. Inside, a rocking chair in the library's children's room bears her name.

In Salem, motorists on Highland Avenue drive by a memorial erected a day after the attacks. Put there by a construction crew working at the Market Basket site, two granite rectangular blocks rise from the small grassy hill beside the road.

The location makes the display hard to get to, which will not be the case beside the fire station. To receive the steel from the Port Authority, Ataide had to demonstrate that the public would have access to it.

The deep ties people have to that day a decade ago was evident whenever someone visited Chief David Cody's office, the steel's temporary home while the memorial site was being prepared. The first thing everyone did was touch it.

The reaction surprised the chief and Ataide, as well.

"I never really knew people needed that connection," he said.