Nestled in the heart of Downtown Hilliard — near the splash pad, restaurants, and retail shops — is a very solemn place.
Hilliard’s First Responders Park is dedicated to remembering the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and those who lost their lives on that terrible day.
“Something as important and something as tragic as 9/11 really affected us all emotionally. It touched our hearts,” said former City of Hilliard Mayor Don Schonhardt, who oversaw the park’s creation.
City leaders spent the next years planning the park’s development. A location at the corner of Main and Center streets, across from what is now Hilliard’s Station Park, was selected.
On May 25, 2010, an escort team of 20 individuals representing the City of Hilliard, Norwich Township, and the Hilliard community departed Hilliard for New York City to bring back seven tons of steel from the World Trade Center.
Upon arrival in Hangar 17 John F. Kennedy International Airport, the escort team saw items very familiar to most people around the world — remnants of the antenna that topped the World Trade Center, mangled emergency vehicles, cars from the train that brought unsuspecting commuters to their offices that morning, and smaller surviving elements, like a rack with bicycles still chained to them.
“It was kind of eerie. It was calm and quiet,” said former Norwich Fire Chief David Long, who was among those on the escort team. “I remember the smell – you could smell the rust of the steel.”
The relics selected by the escort team are on display at First Responders Park.
The Victory Beam
One of the V-shaped I-beams from the collapsed World Trade Center, it’s shape now represents victory and American resolve.
A piece of track from the New York City Subway #1 and #9 Cortland Street Station ran under the World Trade Center. According to New York City Transit, officials claimed that the damage was so extensive that more than a mile of the subway tracks would have to be rebuilt.
Support I-beams from Ground Zero that demonstrate the sheer force and power of the event.
In addition to the artifacts, the park includes a sculpture that was created by local artist Dale Johnson. The sculpture, made of cast and fabricated stainless steel, represents an eternal flame and incorporates silhouettes of assorted American lives doing everyday activities, such as walking the dog, reading a book, and riding a bike.
Because 13 percent of the people who died on 9/11 were first responders, 13 percent of the figures in the sculpture represent first responders.
The flame sculpture detail rises from a tranquil pool of water. The fountain uses nine fire nozzles on one side and eleven on the other to commemorate the date of the attack.
The names of nearly 2,800 people who died because of the terrorist attacks are engraved on three granite walls. This includes the 366 first responders from the New York police and fire departments, and 37 officers from the New Jersey Port Authority.
In 2013, the City of Hilliard Division of Police adopted a new badge, worn by police officers each day. First Responders Park is illustrated in the center of the badge in remembrance of those who serve their communities each day.
The escort team also brought back a 1,000-pound flag pole from the Church Street Entrance to the Trade Center Plaza. The flag pole, which now stands in front of the Safety Services Building on Northwest Parkway, is one of only five recovered as part of the salvage operation.
Sgt. Suzanne Muraco, a member of the escort team, volunteers to lead guided tours at First Responders Park every year on Sept. 11. She said the trip was among the most moving experiences of her career.
“We need to share their stories,” she said. “We need to respect this steel and bring it back with great dignity, take care of this park, and take care of this nation.”