BURRILLVILLE – It is a unique artifact commemorating a national tragedy now two decades old, and now, it will serve as a gathering site when locals mark the anniversary of the attack this fall.
Burrillville will host the “20th Anniversary: Burrillville Remembrance September 11th, 2001-2021,” at Firefighter’s Memorial Park in Harrisville. The event, for which details are still being planned, is expected to include participation by community groups, speakers and more.
It will be held beside a 13-foot-long steel structure salvaged from the remains of the Twin Towers, which now stands as a permanent landmark in the village.
The artifact first came to Burrillville thanks to an effort spearheaded by former Harrisville Fire Chief Mark St. Pierre, who is now serving as interim fire chief in the village of Pascoag.
“It was just so heavy,” St. Pierre recalled when asked about the structure this week.
The chief said he secured the memorial with help from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse – and drove out to Hangar 17 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York with a Harrisville dump truck to pick up the structure.
“They loaded it on for us. It put a lot of weight on the truck,” St. Pierre said.
Back in Burrillville, the members of the Pascoag Water Department used a backhoe to unload the monument. Erecting it in a park across from the Harrisville station was a community project all its own, with volunteers from water department and other fire stations all pitching in. Once holes were dug, a pole truck from Pascoag Utility District was used to lift and drop the artifact three feet into the ground.
On either side of the steel column, the group installed two stone structures – pieces from long-gone Burrillville mills – to represent the two towers. PUD put in lighting to shine on the memorial at night and a brass plaque was installed at the base .
“We strategically located it in the park, so when you drive by the church and the Town Hall you would see it,” St. Pierre said, noting it’s believed to be the only artifact of its kind in the area. “I haven’t seen or heard of any other piece locally displayed.”
But Harrisville Fire Chief Michael Gingell noted that only a few events have been held at the park since the installation.
“I thought it would be appropriate to have some kind of recognition by the Burrillville community of that piece of steel that sits there so strong,” Gingell told members of the Town Council at a meeting last week. “It’s quite an honor to have an actual artifact from there. It behooves the town to recognize it.”
Gingell is working with local officials to organize the 20th anniversary commemoration, securing speakers and community groups looking to participate. The event will begin with coffee and greetings at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11, and at 8:46 a.m. – the time the first tower was hit – alarms will ring at town fire stations, while bells sound at Burrillville churches.
The chief is also working with others to set up a tent, flowers, seating and more for the commemoration, with the help of a $5,000 budget approved last week by councilors.
“It’s crazy to think that it’s been 20 years since that horrific tragedy,” said Councilor Justin Batalon. “Thank you for caring, and doing all of the work you’ve already done to get this going. I think it’s really awesome.”
Councilor Dennis Anderson pointed out that anyone under the age of 25 has no memory of 9/11.
“I think this is a really big deal,” Anderson said. “A whole generation doesn’t even remember.”
“It commemorates the lives that were lost,” said Council President Donald Fox said of the structure. “This is an opportunity, I feel, to bring people together from all walks of life, all political stripes.”
Gingell is coordinating the ceremony with the police department, and is still in the process of contacting other local organizations, from Boy Scout troops and churches, to the Burrillville High School Band. He said he’s hopeful that all will take part, and that many residents attend the commemoration.
“It’s not a Harrisville event. It’s not a firefighter or first responder event. It’s a community event,” he said.
More details on the commemoration will be released in the upcoming weeks and published on NRI NOW.