NEENAH-MENASHA, Wis. (WFRV) — Firefighters with Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue took time on their days off to create a piece in remembrance of 9/11.
The piece, coming in at 10 feet by 5 feet, replaces a 17-year-old display that hung in the stairwell of Station 32.
“The display was given to us after 9/11. It had pictures of the event and the saying ‘never forget’,” says Firefighter Scott Harding.
After nearly two decades in the stairwell, Harding says the piece started to fade and lose its luster. But he and the rest of NMFR wanted to replace it.
“That’s when we got the idea for the big flag,” says Harding.
The big flag, seen below, almost happened by accident.
Mike Novy, another firefighter with NMFR, says many of them were making smaller flags from hose that was no longer in service.
“Each station was getting a Thin Red Line flag,” said Novy.
The Thin Red Line flag, a black and white American flag with one red stripe, shows respect for firefighters injured or killed in the line of duty.
These smaller flags were made with 1 3/4″ retired hose.
When making the flag for Station 32, the group ran into a problem.
“We ran out of 1 3/4″ hose,” says Harding.
Thankfully, NMFR was also retiring some 2 1/2″ hose as well. This change in size also meant the flag would be larger than the Thin Red Line flags.
According to Harding, changing the hose size by 3/4″ made the 9/11 flag much larger than the 4 foot by 6 foot Thin Red Line flags.
After the 2 1/2″ hose was collected for the flag, it was prepped for the painting.
Novy explained the process:
“First we had to cut the hose to fit the specs needed to make the Field of Stars. Then we had to bleach the hose to accept the paint. Then the hose was attached to the plywood.”
While this flag carries a symbolic meaning ahead of the 18th anniversary of 9/11, it also carries significance for NMFR who hasn’t always been one unit.
“One piece of hose from Menasha Fire Department and another is from Neenah Fire Department. If you want to find a meaning in everything, it shows our unity since our merger in 2003,” says Harding.
Once the stripes were laid for the flag, the stars had to be added. Harding says the stars were applied with the help of stamps – but it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
“There were some stars that had to be stamped two or three times to get them right,” says Harding.
The metalwork on the front of the flag also took some time. The mother of one of the firefighters with NMFR designed the metalwork, which the NMFR passed on to Metal Fab Solutions in Kaukauna.
Unfortunately, the original design couldn’t be used. But another firefighter’s step-dad, Tad Kallas, stepped up to help.
Kallas took the design, reworked it, and completed the piece. He then donated it to be added to the flag.
A quick trip to a local auto shop resulted in a spray on the piece to ensure it would keep.
While waiting for the metalwork, the flag hung by itself in the stairwell of Station 32. According to Harding, the crew patiently waited for the metal to be added around May.
Now, the flag hangs in its place at Station 32, providing a constant reminder to never forget the events of 9/11, including the 343 FDNY firefighters lost during the day.
“It was great to use this hose that was just sitting there and make this on our own time,” says Harding.
NMFR invites those interested in seeing the flag to stop by Station 32 to see it in person because “the pictures do not do this any justice.”