Firefighters all over the country mourned the loss of 343 fellow firefighters in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York and have searched for ways to raise money, donate equipment and show their support any way they can. The Kenai Firefighters Association of the Kenai Fire Department is showing its support in a big way -- a 4,000 foot way.
The firefighters association petitioned the state of Alaska to name a mountain after St. Florian, the patron saint of firefighters, to honor those firefighters who lost their lives on Sept. 11.
"It may not seem like a real big thing to people, but the response we're getting already tells me a lot of people out there are impressed and appreciate the significance of having a mountain named after the firefighters," said Scott Walden, chief of the Kenai Fire Department.
The mountain is a little over 4,000 feet and is located 37 miles east of Kenai and eight miles west of Mount Redoubt in the Chigmit Mountain range across Cook Inlet. It is visible from Erik Hansen Memorial Park in Old Town Kenai and is easily recognizable, Walden said.
People across the country started wearing red, white and blue ribbons immediately after Sept. 11, and firefighters began affixing black mourning bands to their badges. Members of the Kenai Firefighters Association wanted to make a more lasting tribute to the lives lost and the 6,000 families that suffered those losses.
The idea to name a mountain in honor of the firefighters was suggested by Walden's father, Ron Walden of Soldotna, and it was like a light bulb had gone off in the firefighters' heads, Walden said.
Within a week, association members, including Michael Tilly, James Baisden, William Furlong, Walter Williamson, James Dye, John Wichman, Eric Wilcox, Anthony Prior, Jason Diorec, Greg Coon, Mark Anderson, John Harris, Samuel Satathite, Thomas Carver and Lori Holleman, began the uphill battle of wading through paper work and finding the necessary information to submit to the Alaska Historical Commission.
"We didn't know how the process works, so we just started looking for a mountain," Walden said.
The fire association members began looking through geological surveys and gathering the rest of the information needed to submit their proposal.
Along the way, they ran into several regulations and restrictions that needed to be overcome. The National Park Service frowns on naming a mountain in a national park, Walden said, so firefighters needed to find one that wasn't part of the Lake Clark National Preserve. And there is a five-year waiting rule to name a landmark in memory of person, so rather than naming the mountain after a specific victim, St. Florian was chosen to represent all the lives lost.
Association members also needed to find the exact longitude and latitude of the mountain, propose a name and give a phonetic spelling of it, explain the significance of the name and the history of St. Florian, make sure the mountain was not already named officially or with a common usage name and get resolutions from the city of Kenai and the Kenai Peninsula Borough supporting the naming.
The Alaska Historical Commis-sion meets only twice a year, so the association members needed to get their proposal put together and submitted to the commission by Oct. 10 to be reviewed in the commission's fall meeting, Walden said. They made the deadline and got an invitation from the commission to come to its Nov. 14 meeting in Anchorage to present their case.
The commission approved the request and forwarded the proposal on to the U.S. Board of Place Names. New maps aren't printed every year, but Mount St. Florian will appear on area charts within a few years.
The Alaska Historical Commission stipulated the firefighters association would have to educate the public about the naming of the mountain in order for the proposal to be approved. To that end, the association plans to work with Kenai's Planning and Zoning Commission and Parks and Recreation Department to place an interpretive plaque in Erik Hansen Memorial Park explaining the significance of St. Florian and a dedication to the 343 firefighters who lost their lives Sept. 11.
A national firefighters publication picked up the Kenai Firefighters Association's success at naming the mountain, and since then Walden has received e-mails from firefighters in New Hampshire, Wisconsin and even New York congratulating their efforts.
To further dedicate the mountain, Kenai firefighter John Harris plans to climb Mount St. Florian sometime this summer and possibly place a memorial plaque on the summit. Some of the firefighters from New York and other states expressed an interest in joining the climb, so Walden issued an open invitation.
Harris plans to fly over the mountain sometime in the coming week to start planning the expedition. Right now he doesn't know how technical or difficult the climb will be, so he can't speculate what level of climbing expertise will be required. Harris said the idea to name the mountain and to climb it came from Walden, and he and the other firefighters thought it was a great idea.
"I intend to climb it anyway, and I'm looking forward to doing it, absolutely," said Harris, an avid climber who has summited Mount McKinley. "And there are a couple of guys that are going to start training here. It's a small gesture of our heartfelt sympathy for the firefighters and their families. Being part of something like that is pretty neat."
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