Central Emergency Services Fire Chief Chris Mokracek stumbled upon an opportunity while browsing the internet — pieces of steel from the World Trade Center, provided by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, available to be used in permanent memorials across the county. Immediately, he knew this was an opportunity that could not be passed up. After more than a year of paperwork, one of those pieces is now on the Kenai Peninsula.
“Our small piece, it’s so heavy,” Mokracek said. “Just imagine weight and the size of the disaster, it’s pretty impressive.”
The piece of steel weighs about 70 pounds, and is 16 inches long by about 10 to 12 inches tall, he said. It is a reminder of the tragic loss that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, which hit especially close to home for Mokracek. He remembers the firefighters that were able to save countless lives by being able to evacuate the buildings before they collapsed.
“There’s sorrow but there’s also so much pride involved in that,” he said. “To have just a small piece as a token and a reminder, it’s important for us.
“It was their darkest hour, but it was their finest hour.”
The steel will be on display while CES hosts a Sept. 11 Memorial Ceremony Sunday. The tragedy hits home to many firefighters and first responders across the nation, as they commemorate the fallen in their own ways.
CES firefighter John Lendess organized a 911-mile memorial motorcycle ride to honor the 10th anniversary of the attacks. The idea came when he and two other firefighters talked about doing something special for 9/11.
“We’re firefighters and we ride motorcycles. We said, ‘Hey, why don’t we do a big 911-mile ride for 9/11,’” Landess said.
The ride will start in Anchorage, go up to Fairbanks, and end at the Harley-Davidson shop in Soldotna. The ride is 911 miles, with a little extra at the end.
“According to Google, it’s real close,” Landess said. “I think about Sterling is where the exact 911 miles is.”
He said this ride will honor those who died on Sept. 11.
“It means a lot, obviously nothing can ever replace those who were lost, and the pain and suffering that families knew,” Landess said.
There are 38 people doing the full ride, with several who will join the group at the Harley-Davidson shop to ride to the CES ceremony together. Most of the riders are active or retired firefighters, Landess said.
Landess said planning began in January, each rider taking part will pay $55, which includes a T-shirt and lunch. The profits will be donated.
“All funds that we’ve raised we’re going to donate to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation,” he said.
There were 343 firefighters from the New York Fire Department that lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. For the last four years, there have been 343 flags displayed by the Nikiski Fire Department along the Kenai Spur Highway. This year will be no different.
“It’s a way for us to keep their memory fresh in our minds,” Nikiski Chief James Baisden said.
In 2002, the Kenai Fire Department petitioned for a mountain in the foothills of Mount Redoubt to be renamed Mount St. Florian to honor firefighters past, present and future, Kenai Fire Chief Mike Tilly said.
“It was our gift to all firemen across the nation — they have a mountain named in their honor,” he said.
St. Florian is known as the patron saint of all firefighters.
“It’s something that we’re proud of here,” Tilly said. “It’s a very unique thing.”
Kenai firefighters John Harris and Sam Satathite summited the mountain in 2005.
Tilly said the Kenai Fire Department will join with CES Soldotna for the September 11 Memorial Ceremony on Sunday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The ceremony will start at 2 p.m. Sunday at CES Fire Station 1 located at 231 S. Binkley Street in Soldotna. There will be an address by Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey, and speeches from Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche, Kenai Mayor Pat Porter, Mokracek, and others.