Carlisle man wanted to honor 9/11 firefighters, paramedics

Julie and Bob Garvin stood by a brass sliding pole and a 9/11 plaque inside a replica firehouse created by Bob's son Harry. The pole was made in Somerville, Mass., on the morning of the attacks.
Julie and Bob Garvin stood by a brass sliding pole and a 9/11 plaque inside a replica firehouse created by Bob's son Harry. The pole was made in Somerville, Mass., on the morning of the attacks. Lexington Herald-Leader

CARLISLE — At first glance, this city of 2,000 might seem an unlikely place for a 9/11 memorial. But across the street from the Nicholas County Courthouse is a tribute to the 343 firefighters and paramedics who died in the World Trade Center.

Behind a restored 1818 building that was once a harness shop and former home of the now-defunct Carlisle Mercury newspaper is a 10-year-old building dedicated to all things related to firefighting.

Harry K. Garvin, 49, a Los Angeles resident and son of Carlisle resident Bob Garvin, had the building put up in 2001-02 to store a fire engine and some of his photos of firefighters, plus a brass sliding pole and a mirrored plaque that lists the names of all the New York firefighters who died in 9/11.

"When we first unveiled that thing and had the dedication, there were a lot of moist eyes in here," Bob Garvin, 84, recalled.

The brass sliding pole has its own 9/11 story.

Harry Garvin had sent a deposit to McIntire Brass Works of Somerville, Mass., to order the pole only a few days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. When he learned that the company was fabricating the pole on the morning of the attacks, he decided to have a small commemorative plaque next to it. But the idea for the large mirrored plaque with the names of the fallen came from his mother, Carol Walker Garvin, who died in 2007.

"So I had to do research to find all 343 names and the correct spellings," Harry Garvin said in a telephone interview.

The names of the fallen firefighters were sandblasted into the plaque by a Lexington company called Blast Art. The mirrored panels are backlit by fluorescent bulbs. The light goes through frosted glass but not the mirror, causing the names to glow, said Blast Art owner Danny Wilkerson.

The plaque contains a quote from American poet John Godfrey Saxe: "If Prometheus was worthy of the wrath of heaven for kindling the first fire upon earth, how ought all the gods to honor the men who make it their professional business to put it out."

The memorial panel, pole and the whole building were dedicated in 2002 on the one-year anniversary of the twin towers' collapse.

"We had the local firemen, the county and city firemen, assembled here," Bob Garvin said. "And we had a bagpiper, and we had a little ceremony."

Parked in Harry Garvin's replica firehouse is a 1969 American LaFrance fire engine that was used in the 1992 L.A. riots, but was declared surplus from the Beverly Hills Fire Department. Harry Garvin bought the engine for $5,000, but he said it cost more than that to ship it to Carlisle.

Paris Fire Department Battalion Chief Jeff McFarland periodically takes the engine for a spin "to exercise it," Bob Garvin said. "... I start it up occasionally and run it a few minutes. It's got an eight-cylinder diesel engine, and it's made to run up and down those hills in L.A."

Harry Garvin makes his living as a motion picture camera operator. He has worked on movies such as Master and Commander with Russell Crowe, The Patriot with Mel Gibson, Tin Cup with Kevin Costner and In the Line of Fire with Clint Eastwood.

He began filming fire scenes when he was a college student and later filmed fires for videos and documentaries for the Los Angeles Fire Department. He documents the department with an ongoing still-photography project and periodically donates his services as a certified forensic photographer for the department's arson section. His photographs document fire scenes for civil and criminal litigation.

Harry Garvin said he plans to retire in Carlisle. His mother was the fifth generation to have lived in Carlisle in a house on Locust Street.

"I inherited it from her, so I will be the sixth generation in that house. I don't like the idea of breaking that generational bond to a house," Harry Garvin said. "I think it's very important to respect the people who came before you and to take over as the steward of that property.

"Carlisle is pretty unique, and I don't think people in Carlisle realize this. You live in a big city like Los Angeles, and they tear buildings down and they make parking lots. To have a town that still has a courthouse and center square and the downtown area and library and churches — that's a vanishing piece of Americana, and I want to do my share to not only protect and preserve the buildings ... but also the town itself. ... I think my mother felt the same way: You don't turn your back on your ancestors."

In the same vein, as Tuesday's 11th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Harry Garvin said he remembers the firefighters then and now who run into blazing buildings.

On the morning of the attacks, "I knew there was a bunch of firemen in both of those buildings, making their way up the stairways. That was the first thing I thought about," he said.

"So when the buildings collapsed, I knew right off the bat there were going to be a lot of firemen killed because they would be in those stairwells. They died doing what they had done many times before in drills and in small incidents, but this time it was the real deal."

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