Earlier this year, DeKalb firefighter Doug Harms was sweeping the bunk room at Fire Station Number 24 when he began thinking about commemorating the upcoming tenth anniversary of 9/11. “I remembered a magazine article about a special deal available for a (9/11 memorial) monument,” he said.
Harms talked with captains Brian O’Keeffe and Jimmy Staples and said he was given permission to contact the FDNY commissioner’s office about acquiring some Twin Towers’ steel. But FDNY wanted a request on a government letterhead so Harms received permission from DeKalb Fire Chief Edward O’Brien to use DeKalb’s official stationary.
Harms said he got a thumbs-up from New York to come up to their training academy on Randall’s Island, otherwise known as “The Rock,” to find some steel. Harms and three colleagues drove the 850-plus miles in a pickup truck in May to find and bring back their steel.
“I thought they (FDNY) might give me a bolt,” said Harms. Instead, he got a 15 inch by 16 inch piece of steel that was two inches thick and weighing over 160 pounds. Harms said he was told by FDNY that the steel came from one of the fallen Twin Towers based on its thickness.
“That’s when the idea grew in me that we should have a sculpture to go with the steel, but I didn’t want to take anything away from that steel,” said Harms. He sent an email to the Atlanta campus of Savannah College of Arts and Design for some sculpting expertise.
SCAD got in touch with professional sculptor C.J. Miller and he then contacted Harms. The two were of a like mind regarding the memorial sculpture’s design so Miller went to work in space donated by SCAD on their campus near the Arts Center MARTA station.
Miller had a stake in this project as 9/11 affected him personally. He was a crash rescue Marine and 9/11 ultimately took him to two tours of duty in Iraq. Asked about this project, Miller said he had conflicted emotions because of the sheer tragedy of 9/11. “The root of it all is that I’m honored and this is why I’m into sculpting,” he said.
Harms explained the sculpture’s design (see photos) as a ten-foot tall phoenix rising behind the steel beam and curling like the eternal flame. Therefore, the sculpture reflects America rising above and out of the ashes, he added. The monument site, soon to be cleared, will be in front of the DeKalb County Fire and Police Headquarters at 1960 West Exchange Place in Tucker.
Harms, a six-year firefighting veteran in both East Point and DeKalb, is seeking donations to help complete DeKalb’s 9/11 Memorial Monument. For additional information and to donate, visit www.dekalb911memorial.wordpress.com, or email Harms at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want your donation to be tax deductible.
When Harms was in New York, he said retired FDNY firefighter Lee Ielpi bemoaned the lack of 9/11 historical information. Harms said DeKalb’s 9/11 memorial will provide that needed perspective. Ielpi would be satisfied – it took him about six months to find his firefighter son’s remains and helmet at Ground Zero after 9/11.