“My son firefighter Leon Smith Jr., who was the sunshine of my life. He gave his life so that others could live. I love you, I miss you and we’ll meet again soon.”
—Irene Smith, whose son was a member of the Fire Department of New York Ladder Co. 118, speaking at the September 11th 2011 memorial service at Ground Zero.
The FDNY 9|11 Memorial Wall was created to recall and honor the valor and determination of the 343 members of the Fire Department of New York, the FDNY, who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty trying to save the lives of others on September 11th, 2001. It also recognizes the sorrowful loss that surviving firefighters bear.
Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc., established the New York City Firefighter Memorial Wall Fund on behalf of Glenn J. Winuk, a Holland & Knight partner, who was also a volunteer firefighter on Long Island, NY. On that Tuesday morning with its cloudless-blue sky, he rushed from his nearby law office to the Twin Towers to try to help others; he lost his life in that effort. The FDNY 9|11 Memorial Wall was a gift, presented to the FDNY by the law firm of Holland & Knight. It serves as a lasting tribute to the sacrifices of the 343 active fire department personnel who lost their lives in the aftermath of the attack on the Twin Towers.
The artistic form used for the memorial is called bas-relief, from the French for low relief. This method is an artistic tradition that reaches back 2,000 years to the ancient Romans. The tales of Emperor Trajan’s battles and the stories of the military campaigns of Emperor Marcus Aurelius are told using the bas-relief form around great columns of marble in Rome. This modern bas-relief sculpture follows that tradition, commemorating the firefighters’ heroism on 9|11. Cast in bronze, it recounts the story of the 343 brave souls who gave their lives battling the Twin Towers inferno and the horrendous recovery in the many months that followed.
The complex narrative of this 56-foot long and six-foot tall, bronze sculpture reflects the technical and organizational challenges facing the firefighters. It expresses the firefighters’ emotions, coming to grips with the enormity of the collapsing Twin Towers, with millions of tons of materials and thousands of human beings. The action of the artwork begins at its edges and moves toward the center, the Twin Towers its focal point. The figures, nearly life-sized, look to the North Tower, already engulfed in flames and smoke, as the South Tower take a direct hit from United Airlines Flight 175. The firefighters include officers at command stations, men washing at a hydrant, and others carrying their equipment. The size of the figures diminishes gradually as the viewer sees the dominant Twin Towers at the center of the memorial.
The FDNY Memorial Wall shows 46 symbolic firefighters and the equipment they used during the Ground Zero rescue and recovery operations. Beneath that is a complete list of all active duty firefighters who lost their lives on 9|11. They are listed alphabetically by rank. At the very bottom, and extending across the entire installation, a time line is shown. It begins on that brilliant late-summer morning, and records the events to the end of all recovery efforts. The memorial, placed at eye-level, where the sidewalk is especially wide, allows the public to have close access. Lit by the afternoon sun, the sculptured bronze figures stand out in strong relief; and at night, it is lit, giving visitors the opportunity to experience the tribute during evening hours.
The Rambusch Company was approached by Holland & Knight to design, fabricate and install the memorial. The concept for the bas-relief came from Senior Project Manager, Viggo Rambusch. Members of the FDNY, especially Manhattan Borough Commander Harold Meyers, were closely involved with the design project. Once the approval of the FDNY and the patron, Holland & Knight LLP was received, design sketches by Rambusch artist, Joseph Oddi, were developed. Sculptor Joseph Petrovics then modeled the full-scale clay version, which was cast in bronze by the Bedi-Makky Art Foundry of Brooklyn in 2005. Situated at 124 Liberty Street, at the corner of Greenwich and Liberty Streets in Lower Manhattan, the memorial is attached to the western wall of Ten House (Engine 10, Ladder 10). That is directly across the street from the World Trade Center. The memorial was dedicated June 10, 2006.
Both Engine 10 and Ladder 10 were formed from Volunteer Fire Companies. FDNY Engine #10 was first organized at 28 Beaver St. on September 8th, 1865; FDNY Ladder #10 was established at 28 Ann St. later that same year on October 20th. Engine #10 moved to its new quarters at 124 Liberty St. on June 11th, 1980 and was joined there on the 1st of July 1984 by Ladder #10.
On September 11th, 2001, five members from the Ten House made the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty. Lieutenant Gregg Atlas, Firefighter Jeffrey Olsen and Firefighter Paul Pansini were from Engine 10; Lieutenant Stephen Harrell and Firefighter Sean Tallon were from Ladder 10.
When the World Trade Center Towers collapsed, tons of debris fell onto the Ten House. Windows and doors were blown out; the facade suffered extensive damage; interior structures, utilities, lighting and the roof were devastated. The firehouse’s apparatus floor was filled with debris more than three feet high; in some areas in and around the firehouse the debris reached nearly six feet deep. The building’s ventilation system and air conditioning units were destroyed.
Although the Ten House could no longer operate as a firehouse after the collapse of the Twin Towers, the building nevertheless played an important role in the daily operations at Ground Zero. During the early days of the rescue and recovery operations, as well as during the clean up of the site, the Ten House was used as a rest and recuperation station; it also served as a command post for fire department operations at the site. Since September 11, 2001 both Engine and Ladder 10 were temporarily quartered in nearby firehouses. Engine 10 was stationed at the quarters of Engine 7 and Ladder 1 on Duane Street and Ladder 10 at the quarters of Engine 4 and Ladder 15 on South Street.