By: Dan Elliott
The tragic events of September 11th, 2001 need no introduction. It will forever remain a dark mark in the pages of American history, and a grim reminder that we can never be guaranteed total safety from terrorist forces, not even in our own country. Almost all of us can remember where we were that day when the towers of the World Trade Center were attacked in New York City: I was a sophomore in high school, having returned to class from a morning of business administration at the local technical school. My teachers were huddled around a television sitting atop a roller cart, their trance-like gaze fixated on a screen depicting a smoldering skyscraper upon a cerulean backdrop, broken up only by billowing clouds of smoke emitting from it.
I was significantly more naive back then, believing that the events unfolding in the faraway land of New York City had little impact in my secure coastal bastion of Brunswick, Maine. I could hardly be blamed for my cloistered mentality, for little exciting happens here—we enjoy a life of relative humdrum and safety. I was wrong, of course. The attacks on September 11th were a national emergency, not relegated to a specific state or region. Instantaneously, a miracle emerged from what seems like utter horror and havoc. Men and women, coming from all walks of life, every race and creed, swarmed upon New York to provide aid to their neighbors in need. People who would, under the circumstances of ordinary life, never have associated with each other joined forces to assist in emergency services at a time when risk to life was a very real threat.
Like the rest of the nation, Maine sprung into action by sending local firefighters and emergency medical staff to assist survivors emerging from the wreckage. Part of the team of first-responders sent to help sift through the rubble to locate survivors, Michael Clarke of the Bath Fire Department joined an amalgamation of fellow emergency personnel, swept into the New York metropolis by police escort, to begin combing through shattered office equipment and toxic plumes of smoke for the living. It was Clark, a Long Island native, who was instrumental in bringing back what would become a testament both to the horrors of the day, but also a symbol to human endurance during one of the darkest moments in United States history: a fragment of girder from the ground zero rubble.
Designed by Clark’s son, Mikey, in collaboration with local artist John Gable, the girder sits in display at SMCC’s Midcoast campus, a gift from firefighters of New York City in recognition of the City of Bath’s contributions during the terrorist attack. It greets the students attending classes in the Academic Building with the sober remembrance of a nation in peril, and a reminder of a community’s act of heroism. The memorial has double importance to students within the Fire Science program, as it is a reminder of how vital a role they will move on to fill, and that the constraints of their service exceed the boundaries of our sleepy Maine towns. Perhaps most important of all, the crossbeam which made its journey from beneath the ash and metal of New York to the coastal satellite campus of SMCC tells a parable, a story with a lesson to all those who come across it—some day you, too, may be called to aid strangers in a distant city, to be brought together as one under the most dire of circumstances.