Chief Christopher McCarthy with the Castle Rock Fire Department vividly remembers his commute to work before the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
A former Brooklyn paramedic, McCarthy lived in Long Island and paid a toll every day traveling the Long …
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A former Brooklyn paramedic, McCarthy lived in Long Island and paid a toll every day traveling the Long Island Expressway. He’d be on the road by 5 or 6 a.m., and with the sunrise behind him, make his way toward the New York City skyline. He could best see the World Trade Center, he said, at the Long Island Expressway exit from the Northern State Parkway.
“One thing I liked about that commute was that view,” he said. “That one little piece. Otherwise, that commute was terrible.”
The sunrise on Sept. 11 didn’t disappoint.
“I was like, it’s just going to be a beautiful day,” he recalls thinking as he looked forward to a day of patrol.
To his surprise, McCarthy arrived at work to learn his partner was on vacation and he was placed on desk duty. It was a let-down. McCarthy liked being on patrol.
He started that morning drinking coffee and talking with two members of his hazmat crew, both named Brian, before he shuffled them out of the office. McCarthy had inventories orders to run, and it was time to get to work.
But shortly after, McCarthy saw the two Brians running back up the driveway.
“Boss,” they said, “the World Trade Center is on fire.”
• • •
McCarthy left New York in 2002 and joined the fire department in Castle Rock, where he now works as a division chief in the training department.
Today, he also is a proud graduate of the Leadership Douglas County class of 2017. Leadership Douglas County is a Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce program that takes people from all backgrounds — from business owners to nonprofit organizations to government employees — through programming that encourages people into leadership roles.
Each graduating class is tasked with completing one community project before graduation. The class of 2017 created an impactful one, chamber president Pam Ridler said.
The 22 participants planned and delivered a 9/11 Monument that now sits in front of the Castle Rock’s fire department headquarters at 300 Perry St. McCarthy pitched the idea, and from November to its June 10 ribbon-cutting, the group worked to design the memorial.
The base of the monument is rhyolite stone, symbolic of the natural resources found near Castle Rock. But the bulk of the memorial is comprised of a tall, rusted, contorted piece of steel pipe that is a remnant of the World Trade Center structure.
“It’s very powerful,” McCarthy said. “To twist a steam pipe into a pretzel shape requires a lot of kinetic energy.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 10 struck a chord with many, Ridler said. One attendee had been a civilian trapped in the towers during the attacks. Although he did not want any recognition, she said, the event brought back emotions for him.
The monument is mostly an effort to commemorate the lives lost on that fateful day, program participants have said. However, throughout the course of the project, it became something that united many of those living locally who were touched by the terrorist attacks.
And brought back memories for all of where they were when they heard the news.
Tom Bailey, a Castle Pines resident and senior project manager with Adolfson & Peterson Construction in Aurora, joined Leadership Douglas County as a way to network and gain leadership skills.
He remembers his 70- to 80-man construction site in Indianapolis coming to a freeze when news of the attacks broke. Three weeks later he traveled to New York City for medical work and took time to visit the desecrated World Trade Center, walking around the entire site.
“I just remember seeing cars covered in 2 to 3 inches of ash just left right where they were,” he said. “To smell that decay, the dust, the ash, it’s just something that I couldn’t describe because it was not like anything I had ever experienced before.”
Working on the 9/11 monument was a highly rewarding experience, he said, commending the group and the many sponsors who donated time, labor and supplies to make it happen.
He hopes, he said, the monument leaves people with an appreciation for rescue personnel.
“I think it might make people, once in a while, kind of step back and realize how the policemen and firemen in our community put their lives at risk every day,” he said. “That was the whole concept. It was remembering all the first responders. They put the needs of others ahead of the needs of themselves.”
Sgt. Tim Beals with the Lone Tree Police Department, also a 2017 Leadership Douglas County graduate, said the class was fortunate to have a hands-on group of people who each brought unique expertise to the project.
He was grateful to have met new friends through the group, grateful to have met McCarthy and see first-hand how the monument would affect people touched by the attacks.
Although wanting to join his fellow first responders set up triage on-scene, McCarthy had been firmly ordered to remain at his desk throughout the day on Sept. 11 and manage calls — the rest of the city still needed service.
The two Brians, trapped in a building crushed when the towers collapsed, survived. But McCarthy lost 17 friends that day.
“To lose them all in one day,” he said, trailing off.
The Leadership Douglas County project has helped him in the healing process, McCarthy said.
But most importantly, he said, the monument is now a lasting remembrance of all those who died and who continue to battle health problems — like cancer — because of their rescue work at 9/11.
“I don’t share it often,” McCarthy said of his story. “This is not about me. It’s about them. It has to be about those who were killed that morning and those who continue to suffer and are dying today. That’s why this monument is important to me.”
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