New England native recalls experience at Ground Zero, escorts Trade Center beam to Colorado

In the community of New England when the word “service” is mentioned a family name that comes to mind for many is Hanson. Primarily, Bill and Mary. The couple, who were both born and raised in the area, have done much through the years in service to their community.

A partial beam from one of the World Trade Center buildings is strapped to a trailer for transport from New York to Colorado. New England native Bryan Hanson was a fire fighter who helped after the terrorist attacks in 2001. (Courtesy Photo)
A partial beam from one of the World Trade Center buildings is strapped to a trailer for transport from New York to Colorado. New England native Bryan Hanson was a fire fighter who helped after the terrorist attacks in 2001. (Courtesy Photo)

By KEVIN SCHAEFER | The Herald

William G. Hanson (Bill) joined the Army in 1950 during the Korean War where he was a paratrooper. Following his five years of service to his country, Bill married  Mary Stecher and they began their life together. Ironically. their first businesses together are referred to as “service stations.” After disposing of those businesses,  Hanson then began working for the city as the water superintendent, Deputy Sherriff, and assistant police chief for more than 10 years. Obsessed with water, Bill decided to ‘herd’ water as an occupation, and began Bill’s Excavation and Plumbing.

During those years, Mary supported her husband in his service and labors  as a bookkeeper and together they raised six children.

As if serving the community as a plumber wasn’t time consuming enough, Bill has served as a volunteer fireman for 58 years with 25 years as the Fire Chief. To this day, it is not uncommon for Hanson to be in the first vehicle to arrive at a fire or other emergency. Hanson has also been very active in the American Legion, Forty & 8, Disabled American Veterans, formerly a member of the ambulance squad and the North Dakota Fire Chief’s Assoc.

“With the acorn not falling far from the tree,” Jerry, Bill and Mary’s oldest, worked as a lineman for Slope Electric for a short time, then to Bismarck as a CPR Instructor and lineman and then in Colorado as a firefighter.

Keane, the couple’s fifth child is currently the owner and operator of Hanson Plumbing and Excavation with his wife Shelley. Not surprising, Keane is also a volunteer fireman. His sister, Ardel is the first and only woman serving on New England’s Fire Protection Squad and assists Keane when she can as they serve the community.

And then there is Bill and Mary’s third child, Bryan.

After graduating from St. Mary’s High School in New England, Bryan lived in Dickinson and worked in the oilfield until the ‘bust’ in the ‘80’s. His oldest brother, Jerry, then convinced Bryan to move to Fort Collins, Colo. in 1984 and North Dakota’s loss was Colorado’s gain. Bryan worked various jobs, one of which was plumbing, in Fort Collins while Jerry was continuing to pester him about being a firefighter. Finally Bryan gave in, began studying and training and took the “Firefighter Test.” He passed with flying colors and the Hanson tradition continues.

Fort Collins is situated at the base of the Rocky Mountain foothills of the northern Front Range approximately 60 miles north of Denver, Colo. and 45 miles south of Cheyenne, Wyo. There are 184 career firefighters,11 paid fire stations and two volunteer fire stations in the city of more than 190,000. The fire protection district covers 240 sq. miles and includes, the municipality, grasslands and forests. With the forests and grasslands come “wildfires.”

Hanson is a paid firefighter with 24 hours on and 24 hours off. He is also the Commander of the Fire Department  Honor Guard and serves as a Fire Safety Inspector on his days off. In his spare time, he is the ‘Mover and Shaker’ doing fundraisers. He coordinated his first fundraiser for his brother Jerry, and has been the major coordinator of at least a dozen fundraisers for the last nine years. One fundraiser was for a fellow firefighters son,  who was diagnosed with bone cancer which brought in more than $70,000 Another was for $40,000. The fundraisers included activities such as golf tournaments, auctioning off firefighters for a day, poker runs, and many many meals. Again “ Service to the Community.”

Hanson is also a member of a team that  in 1991 started the Colorado Task Force 1,(CO-TFI), Urban Search and Rescue, (USAR) which is a division of Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). There are 28 FEMA US&R Task Forces spread throughout the continental United States trained and equipped by FEMA to handle national and natural disasters from structural collapse to hurricanes and flooding. A task force is able to conduct physical search, recovery and heavy rescue operations in damaged or collapsed reinforced concrete buildings.

With his task force team, Bryan was called to the devastation of the World Trade Center shortly after the collapse of 9/11. They flew into Ft. Dix, 16.1 miles south-southeast of Trenton, N. J. for two days of instruction and training, continuously while under the guidance of armed escorts.

From there they traveled to “Ground Zero” in New York. There they spent the next two weeks picking through the smokey and steamy  rumble of concrete and steel which at one time were the Twin Towers. All the while wearing respirators.

‘The Pile’ was the term coined by the rescue workers to describe the approximate 1.8 million ton of wreckage that was left from the collapse of the World Trade Center. It was one-fourth of a mile wide and one-fourth of a mile long and at least 150 feet high. Some of their 12 hour shifts were consumed with forming ‘bucket brigades,’ which passed 5-gallon buckets full of debris down a line to investigators, who sifted through the debris in search of evidence and human remains. Other days we searched voids for body recovery. They also helped cut up steel beams into more manageable sizes for removal. The beams were 24 inches by 18 inches wide and were four inches thick and were cut into 10-foot lengths and only weighed approximately 10,000 lbs.

After their shifts ended, they were loaded into trucks where the volunteers showered and stayed at the Javits Center, a civic center-like auditorium which held more than 400 cots and made total rest almost impossible. Hanson reported that, unlike their reputation, he found the New Yorkers to be very nice people. Open-air food vendors lined the outskirts of ‘The Pile’ and large boats were lined up in the Hudson Harbor all serving a wonderful variety of delicious foods and were completely free to the volunteers who were slaving away serving their fellowman. One particularly nice woman who was serving food all the while that Hanson was there was a blonde older lady. She was none other than Loretta Swit (Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan) from MASH fame. Many celebrities came to the Javits center to thank the rescue workers.  Bryan also met the entire casts from the TV shows The Sophranos and The Seinfeld Show. After Hanson’s stint at ‘The Pile’ he has returned to New York several times to lead the Honor Guard when firefighters were laid to rest.

Most recently, after many many phone calls, paperwork and ‘hoop jumping,’ Hanson  accomplished another goal in his life. Bryan was asked by the Fire Chief of the Poudre Fire Authority, to organize a team which consisted of himself and three of his fellow firefighters to travel to New York City and bring back a steel beam from the World Trade Center Twin Towers that was awarded to the fire department. Hanson gathered up donations of vehicles and dollars and used up vacation time to transport a portion of the Twin Towers 1,700 miles to Fort Collins.

“Five years ago two firefighters (Hanson & Kettle), wrote a letter to the World Trade Center committee trying to get a piece of steel brought back so we can build it into the structure of a new firehouse building.

As chosen by the fire department in Fort Collins – Hanson traveled to New York City to bring this piece of history to Fort Collins.

The four-day journey began as the 24 inch by 18 inch wide and 5-foot long beam weighing 3,500 lbs. was ceremoniously placed on the specifically constructed shelf on a flat-bed trailer near Ground Zero. The truck,  trailer and precious cargo was escorted through New York City with a caravan of multiple FDNY fire apparatus, NYPD police cars and motorcycles who stopped traffic. which allowed the travel through the city in rapid fashion.

The team was escorted by more than 100 different Emergency Service Agencies including Patriot Guard Riders and American Veterans, and was celebrated and honored as the steel passed through each town along the way. Nowhere along the route were they without an escort. They spent four nights along the journey, all in unionized Fire Stations where the artifact was under constant guard inside, out of the weather. Whenever they stopped for refueling, snacks or bathroom breaks, the group was deluged with reporters, well-wishers and fanfare.

The gatherings were a salute to a piece of history and those preserving it. For some, it may be the only chance to see a part of the World Trade Center. “It was a sight I’ll never forget,” said a fire chief, “Twenty years in the department that I’ve been on, it’s one of the best things I’ve seen and it was just awesome,” he explained.

The 3,500 pound steel beam made three stops in Nebraska on its way to Fort Collins. “To see this many people, it’s like holy cow!” said Hanson. “It was great.”

As they went under overpasses, local fire departments, law enforcement and veterans pay tribute.

“We had tears in our eyes, lumps in our throats, it was really a fantastic sight to see,” Hanson said. about the way that the general public responded.

Bryan’s family back in New England proudly followed his route half way across the country on Interstate 80 via computer until they couldn’t take it anymore. They quickly traveled to Fort Collins where Bill rode in the firetruck leading the procession into the city where the small part of America’s history rests with dignity in a fire station of the Poudre Fire Authority.

When Bryan Hanson isn’t fighting fires, fundraising, inspecting buildings or other community services, he enjoys playing the drums in a Scottish Pipe and Drum Band, complete with wearing a kilt. His sister teasingly says that he enjoys wearing a skirt.

Bryan corrected her by explaining that “it’s not a skirt, with a skirt you wear underwear.”

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