Richard Benson of Algonquin has a unique perspective on a firefighters memorial being built in downtown Algonquin with a steel beam from the former World Trade Center in New York City.
A former volunteer firefighter, Benson is the son of Edwin "Roy" Benson, who died of a heart attack while responding to a fire in 1967, and was there when G.D. "Mac" McIntyre collapsed and died coming back from a call in 1976. Roy Benson and Mac McIntyre are the only firefighters in the 117-year history of the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District to die in the line of duty. The new memorial will honor them as well as the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.
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"It's an honorable thing that the town has a memorial like that. It honors the people that served the community," Benson said.
The Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Firefighters Association is building the memorial on the north end of Riverfront Park. The location is particularly significant because the old firehouse used to be across the street until about eight years ago, firefighter/paramedic Dan Teson said.
Construction started last week, right after agreements were approved by the village of Algonquin and the fire protection district, and is on track to be finished in time for a Sept. 11 dedication, Teson said.
The memorial will consist of a brick paver circle 40 feet in diameter with the World Trade Center steel beam in the middle, and landscaping all around it, Teson said.
The firefighters association got the beam, which weighs more than 5,000 pounds, as a donation from The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Teson said. He and two other firefighters flew to New York City in November to accept the donation, and were met there by one of the firefighters' father, who drove his truck, Teson said. The foursome picked up the beam at a hangar outside LaGuardia Airport, and father and son drove it back to Illinois.
"It absolutely does have an effect on you, when you sit there and physically touch a piece of something that was a major part of our history, probably one of the worst days that we've ever had in the U.S. To be able to be part of something like that in a positive manner, and pay tribute to all the people who died that day, it's very meaningful," he said.
Roy Benson owned a gas station downtown and was always willing to help others, Richard Benson said. "He was a hard worker," said Benson, now 61, who was 17 when his father died. "I remember in the middle of the night somebody would be calling saying they ran out of heating oil. If he had any fuel in the truck, he'd run out there and get them through the night."
Mac McIntyre, on the other hand, was a jokester who liked to hold practice sessions whenever possible, he said. In fact, the day he died his fellow firefighters at first thought he was joking, Benson said.
"Mac was gasping for breath, he collapsed on the floor. We thought it was another exercise type of thing, but then we realized he was having problems. We did CPR, but he didn't make it," he said. "It was traumatizing."
Edwin "Roy Jr." Benson, 60, who now lives in Florida, said he is grateful to the fire protection district for honoring his father along with the victims of Sept. 11. "This is a broader acknowledgment of those who lost their lives and were injured and lost. This is a much bigger picture than just my father," he said.
The firefighters association began working on the plan about four years ago and raised about $30,000 through several fundraisers, Teson said. "Initially we planned to have a bronze statue of a firefighter, but then we changed the plan with the downturn of the economy. The price of the statue is equal to what the price of our full memorial is now," he said.