ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The new Alaska Fallen Firefighter Memorial won't be done by its dedication ceremony on Sept. 11, but the celebration will continue in remembrance of those fallen -- and the man who made sure their stories would live on.
The memory of fallen heroes has outgrown the walls at Fire Station 3. Eight Alaskan names once lined the memorial, and in the last year 10 more firefighters have been identified -- while at least a handful of names are still lost to history.
“We do have a few firefighters -- I think there are five total -- we don't know who they were, but we do know they died in the line of duty,” said Anchorage firefighter Jason Dolph.
The memorial will be moved next to Fire Station 1 Downtown, becoming a part of the city's walking tour and an addition to the Fire Department Museum. It's a remembrance, but also a reminder.
“Why do we do this? Why do we build memorials for people?” said retired firefighter Mark Barker. “So much of it is to remember and honor those folks who, as cliche as it sounds, did give the ultimate sacrifice -- and maybe a little bit is for us to remember to be careful in what we do.”
The move is hard to imagine now, and even harder to believe it will be finished on time. But the volunteers and grassroots donors feel they are only a little bit behind schedule.
“Just because trying to pour concrete, and our rainy season and typical logistic things that happen on construction projects,” Barker said.
Barker says considering what happened this summer it's surprising the project wasn't halted altogether. John Eshleman, the memorial's largest contributor, died along with two others in a plane crash near the entrance of Denali National Park in early August.
Before he died, Eshleman offered up the equipment and the manpower from his business, Steppers Construction.
“After the plane crash I thought there would be a little hiccup -- Barbara stepped up and kept going,” said Pete Prather with Steppers Construction. “John was about as solid as he could get.”
His charity became an instant legacy for the men he worked with, and the heroes he paid tribute to.
“Although it's the Alaska Fallen Firefighter Memorial, it's also become a memorial to him -- dedicated in his memory to get the memorial completed,” Barker said.
The memorial will honor 18 fallen Alaska firefighters, as well as the 343 New York firefighters who died in the World Trade Center terror attacks on 9/11. The back wall is built to look like a fire station, with a bell and ladders.
In addition, the ground will be paved with the names of those who helped or donated to the project. Eight thousand bricks will pave the memorial grounds, but names on only 200 of them have been sold.
“When tragedy strikes, everyone is in the center of it,” Dolph said. “We mourn and we pull the pieces back together, but it's natural for people to move on. It's our job to make sure, that while we still need to move on, we need to remember them and we also need to learn from them.”
Eshleman's name won't be engraved on these walls. His friends say that knowing him, he'd rather be behind the effort -- so when you stand in front of it you'll remember those fallen heroes who, he said, deserve all the credit.
A parade down 5th Avenue will begin at 11:45 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11. It will make its way down to the new memorial on 4th Avenue and C Street for the noon dedication ceremony.
Contact Ashton Goodell at email@example.com