As a huge American flag fluttered in the wind from the top of a ladder truck, the Montauk Fire Department dedicated a Sept. 11 monument on the department grounds on Sunday. A crowd that included fire department officers, volunteers, Ladies Auxiliary members, Scouts, and others stood solemnly as a Coast Guard color guard approached the monument and began the dedication.
First Assistant Chief John McDonald led the service, which began with a prayer from the Rev. Bill Hoffmann of the Montauk Community Church. Richard Schoen, the fire department chief, said, “I’d like to welcome you all here, but quite frankly I wish we weren’t here.”
“This monument signifies that we will never forget,” he later added.
Joe Dryer, a fire commissioner, told the crowd that today America is fighting a different type of enemy, one who will not go away. “We all have to fight this battle,” he said.
Dennis O’Reilly, a retired New York City firefighter who was stationed in the South Bronx, was credited with getting the monument built. When he spoke, he wouldn’t take credit but did call himself the point man on the project.
After the ceremony he said the monument was built to replace another one that was eroding in the Montauk elements. He was able to secure a piece of steel from the World Trade Center. It came from the New York Fire Department’s training facility on Randalls Island and was from the same steel beam that was made into a plaque for the U.S.S. New York, Mr. O’Reilly said.
He had help obtaining it from another former fireman, Lee Ielpi, who runs the September 11th Families Association and directs the distribution of the steel.
Carl Scheetz, an artisan who cuts and fabricates steel from Ground Zero, fashioned the piece into a Maltese cross — the shape of a firefighter’s badge and a symbol of protection. It is on the main section of the monument surrounding the number 343, the number of firefighters who lost their lives that day.
Two granite pillars resembling the silhouette of the Twin Towers are on either side, and the names of the firefighters are listed on plaques attached to them.
During the ceremony a plane flew over, leaving a plume of smoke. Mr. O’Reilly said it was intentional that the plane flew from north to south to signify that the future is before us. The ceremony ended with 411 moments of silence for the number of firefighters, police officers, and emergency service workers who died on Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. O’Reilly said he hopes the monument becomes a place of solace for others. “Where else can you go and be able to touch a piece of Ground Zero?” he asked.