Piece of World Trade Center finds home with local firefighters union



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Bloomington fire fighter Bob Loviscek brought a beam from the World Trade Center to Bloomington in 2011. Ike Hajinazarian

American Airlines Flight 11 tore through the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City at 8:46 a.m. Sept. 11, 2001, killing everyone on board and hundreds inside the building.

American Airlines Flight 175 hit the south tower at 9:03 a.m. The plane crashed through floors 77 to 85 of the tower, according to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum timeline.

Both of the towers had collapsed by 10:28 a.m.

In less than two hours, the Twin Towers were gone.

***

Nine years after the attacks, Bob Loviscek, president of the Union of Professional Firefighters Local 586 in Bloomington, received an email from the mayor.

Fire departments across the nation were requesting possession of artifacts from Ground Zero, and Loviscek was intrigued.

A piece of the WTC could possibly make its way to Bloomington.

Loviscek made an inquiry with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. It was June 2011 by the time the logistics of picking it up were determined.

Loviscek and his family took a cross-country road trip in a fire department vehicle with a trailer to retrieve the piece of steel, concrete and mangled rebar.

In June 2011, the beam was hauled to Indiana, making the rounds at different festivals and traveling around the state before coming to Bloomington.

At about 2,500 pounds, 10 feet long and roughly 13 inches thick, the beam appears to be an ordinary piece of the rubble.

Because of the extent of the damage and the way the towers fell, there is no way of telling exactly where the beam came from, Loviscek said.

The beam is listed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as 85th in an inventory of more than 350 WTC artifacts.

Some of the artifacts are easier to identify specifically, such as parts of the north tower’s antenna.

Some, like a “mangled ball of steel and concrete — composite,” are harder to definitively place within the ?structure.

The piece that rests in Bloomington is serial number G-0057, simply labeled “steel beam.”

“The actual beam itself is a steel girder with concrete embedded all the way around it and rebar,” Loviscek said.

***

Construction of the WTC began in the mid-1960s as part of a $525 million plan to build a large business complex, according to the WTC website.

The site would consist of six buildings, more than 10 million square feet of office space, and the Twin Towers, which, at 110 stories, would be the world’s tallest skyscrapers.

The towers opened in April 1973.

In February 1993, a van containing 1,500 pounds of explosives detonated in a parking garage located underneath the north tower.

Thirteen years ago, terrorists hijacked two commercial jets and crashed them into the towers. The attacks destroyed not only the towers but four other buildings in the complex, as well.

The attack killed more than 2,700 people and reduced much of the business complex to rubble.

***

When the plans for the WTC complex were revealed in the 1960s, several companies across the nation were contracted to provide steel and materials for the construction of the WTC.

Atlas Machine and Iron Works in Virginia had the task of spinning 12,000 tons of raw steel into lower columns for the bases of the buildings, according to “City in the Sky: The Rise and Fall of the World Trade Center,” a 2003 book by James Glanz and Eric Lipton.

Locations in Washington, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Virginia, Texas and California supplied wall bearings, floor trusses, steel decks, ductwork and more.

For Loviscek, bringing the beam to Bloomington meant more than just bringing a piece of history to the area.

The beam keeps the memory of the event and the fallen firefighters — whom he calls his brothers — at the forefront.

“It’s our job to keep it alive, in my opinion,” Loviscek said. “Three hundred forty-three of our brothers died that day, and it’s our job as the fire department and the fire department union to make sure that this doesn’t get forgotten.”

***

A coffee pot warms in the corner of Bloomington Fire Department Station 5. A crockpot sits on the kitchen counter. The television in the garage is blaring.

An American flag is pinned to the wall in the inlet where the radio and computer sit.

Beside it hangs an often-reproduced 9/11 photo of three men raising the American flag over the gnarled wreckage of the World Trade Center.

At the other end of the room, next to a door leading to the garage, is a similar photo, taken from a different angle.

Beside it, a silver and red wood-handled axe emblazoned with the digits 343.

Items like this remind Bloomington firefighter Bob Loviscek of the events of Sept. 11, a day when life’s normal progression was stalled for several devastating hours.

Loviscek, a veteran of the Marine Corps, has been a firefighter for 17 years, 12 of which he has spent with BFD.

He was working in Speedway, Ind., the morning of Sept. 11 when his father, also a firefighter, called and told him to turn on the television.

One of the Twin Towers was on fire.

“I said, ‘Oh, yeah, I see it,’” Loviscek said. “We were just talking, and we saw the plane coming.”

Loviscek said there was something unsettling about the plane flying across his TV screen.

“I said, ‘Boy, that plane’s awful close,’” he said. “It went into the building and it was like, ‘Holy shit.’”

When it came time to lower the flag outside of the station that evening, Loviscek said he had a perfect moment of ?clarity.

The scale of the day’s events had finally hit him.

All flights had been grounded. Not a soul was ?outside.

The calm, Loviscek said, was startling.

“Speedway is the taxiway to the Indianapolis International Airport. It was just so eerily quiet,” he said. “There wasn’t anybody on the road. The airspace was silent.”

***

During his trip to New York to retrieve the beam, Loviscek and his family were able to tour Ground Zero with the Port Authority.

Nearly 10 years after the attacks, Loviscek said the rebuilding process was still slow.

Though construction had begun on parts of the superstructure for the memorial tower, Loviscek said much of the site remained ?undeveloped.

“In 2010, it was nothing,” he said. “It was a giant hole in the ground.”

The experience, he said, was emotional.

“I go to a lot of conferences around the country and within the state and knew a lot of instructors from New York City and actually knew some that were lost that day,” he said. “It was personal.”

***

Thirteen years later, the photo of the flag being raised at Ground Zero reminds Loviscek of the magnitude of that day’s events and the resilience of the American spirit.

He has the photo hanging in his home next to the iconic photo of soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima during World War II.

For him, both photos carry much the same meaning and inspiration.

Though the country had been through something traumatizing on both occasions, life would go on.

“It’s almost, to me, the same thing,” Loviscek said. “Like, ‘Hey, we’re going to be OK.’”

***

Before the towers fell, it was just a piece of superstructure.

Now, the significance of the beam carries far more weight than that of a skyscraper.

Mark Webb, a BFD battalion chief with more than 30 years in the department, arranged for the beam to be stored in a local CFC Properties warehouse until a proper venue could be determined.

For Webb, the significance of the beam weighs heavily on his mind.

“Thousands of pounds of steel and concrete in this one minuscule piece of the World Trade Center, and to imagine all of that come crashing down, all of that weight, it’s ... to me it’s just mind-boggling,” he said.

Traveling to New York and seeing the 9/11 memorial and the spaces left behind by the towers changed his perspective of the event.

“It’s hard to imagine the scale of the footprint of those buildings until you’ve been there,” Webb said. “You see all of the names all around the memorial, and it’s mind-boggling. You see the battalion chief’s helmet and some of the remembrances that were left behind ... it’s just stirring inside.”

Webb said in his 35 years with the department, he has taken part in some harrowing fire and rescue runs. But he said his experiences do not compare to those of the first responders at the WTC.

“I have been, in my career with fire, the first arriving to people hanging off of balconies and in desperate circumstances, pleading and screaming for help, for rescue,” he said. “And I know the sense of urgency and all of the other feelings that I had when I was faced with that, and that’s minuscule compared to the Twin Towers going down.”

Paul Karaffa, an employee who works in the warehouse in which the beam is stored, said working next to the beam every day makes the loss of life that occurred that day a constant reality.

“It’s hard not to hear the voices,” he said.

Karaffa said seeing the beam, however, never gets old. He said he is protective of it and will do all he can to ensure that it is taken care of until it finds its permanent home.

“It means a lot to me,” he said. “I feel blessed that I’ve been able to, I guess, be the guardian.”

Taking care of the beam for the time being means he can give back to those who suffered loss in the event, Karaffa said.

“Life as I know it changed then, and as many times as we can bounce back, that had to be the single most important (historical event) to happen in my life,” he said.

The beam has not yet been moved from the warehouse because it is not financially possible and there has not been an appropriate venue, Loviscek said.

Though he said he had originally suggested that the piece be used as a memorial in Bloomington’s Switchyard Park, the project was not progressing quickly enough.

Loviscek said he hopes the beam will soon be used as part of a memorial in the student commons area of the new Ivy Tech building, though it may not be possible for another two years.

The memorial would commemorate not only those lost in the attacks on 9/11 but also the other men and women who have died in the line of duty in Monroe County, he said.

Until an appropriate venue is determined, the beam waits.

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