9/11 Memorial at Spring Park Features Twin Towers I-beam

The 9/11 memorial at Poudre Fire Authority Station No. 3 features a steel I-beam from the World Trade Center

July 1, 2024, was a special day for Poudre Fire Authority, especially retired division chief Rick Vander Velde. He was a firefighter with the Longmont Fire Department in 2001 when the terrorist attacks took place on Sept. 11 and was a part of the Colorado team for the National Urban Search & Rescue efforts in the aftermath.

“We were able to make a strong name for ourselves in the midst of a disaster,” he says. “It was one of those things where you wish it never happened, but if it had to happen, it was an honor to represent the state of Colorado and the nation to go out there as a first responder.”

Rick Vander Velde and Derek Bergsten

Vander Velde was one of many first responders in attendance—including others who were on Colorado’s search and rescue team, Colorado Task Force 1—when a 9/11 memorial was unveiled behind Poudre Fire Authority Station No. 3 at Spring Park in Fort Collins just days before the 4th of July. A five-foot-long, 3,000-pound piece of steel from the World Trade Center now sits at a nine- and 11-degree offset with 343 pavers leading up to it, one for each firefighter who died in the terrorist attacks.

The memorial is the result of years of planning and fundraising. Poudre Fire Authority received the steel I-beam in 2015 and hadn’t made much progress on the project until after Fire Chief Derek Bergsten joined the department in 2021. When the choice to create a memorial or return the steel was brought up, the leadership team decided to fundraise and collaborate with the city to make it happen, Bergsten says. They sought out private donations and collaborated with Fort Collins’ City Give program and City Council to bring it all together.

“We decided then, ‘We’re going to do it, and we’re going to finish it,'” Bergsten says. “Fort Collins City Council and the Poudre Fire Authority board contributed quite a bit, but a majority of it was from private donations and the community stepping up and saying, ‘We want to be a part of this and create a memorial here that’ll last and that the entire community can share.'”

For Bergsten, the memorial is both a reminder to those who are old enough to recall the 9/11 attacks and those who came afterward. It commemorates the tragic events of that day and the heroic efforts of the first responders who were at ground zero in the aftermath, like Vander Velde.

“Our station is a part of the neighborhood, and the steel is sitting out back with the Station No. 3 crews overlooking and guarding it…to demonstrate to the community the impacts [9/11] had, not just on a national level, but on our community level,” Bergsten says.

Vander Velde retired from Poudre Fire Authority in February after serving as a task force leader with the national search and rescue team. On the morning of the ribbon cutting at Spring Park, he had returned from New York City, where he visited the 9/11 Memorial & Museum for the first time. The trip was a surprise birthday gift from his girlfriend.

“The surreal part is that this is bringing it to a wonderful closure,” Vander Velde says of the Spring Park memorial. “My special weekend, and now getting to do this on Monday, it’s just a wonderful thing. My biggest thing is that I don’t want people to forget.”