Steel beams and trusses, with rusty patches showing through peeling green paint, sit weathered and scarred on a steel pole for all to see.
It looks like a sculpture.
But to the 200-some people who gathered outside the Minneapolis Emergency Operations Training Facility on Tuesday, this chunk of the former Interstate 35W bridge is much more than that. It’s a reminder of the heroism of those who rushed to the site of the collapse, which killed 13 people and injured 145 on Aug. 1, 2007.
“It stands here as a permanent reminder of their willingness to risk their lives to save others,” Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said in dedicating the monument. “In one of the worst days in our city, our first responders were the best in our city.
“We asked much of them on Aug. 1, 2007 — to run into danger and do whatever they could to save people — and they did,” she said. “We ask much of them every day, still — to enter into the unknown with professionalism and presence, to be there for people when they are having some of the worst moments of their lives, and they do.”
Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel recounted how he had just left work and was on his way to a Twins game at the old Metrodome when he got word of the collapse just after 6 p.m. Hours later, he got in his vehicle about 4:30 a.m. to head home when he noticed a book he’d left on the dashboard the day before. The book’s title: “Are You Prepared for the Unexpected?”
Fruetel said Tuesday that firefighters and others coming to the training center will look at the bridge remnant “as a symbol of why we will always have an answer to that question.”
Tuesday’s dedication ceremony followed a private reception for first responders, survivors of the collapse and families of the victims.
Anne Burke was chosen to speak for the victims’ families. Her mother, Sherry Engebretsen, died in the collapse.
“Ten years ago, I talked to my mom several times, ending each conversation with ‘I love you,’ ” Burke said. “I laid down that night in a pile of tissues.”
As the days passed, Burke said, “I felt I had no tears left.
“With the strength and help of others I did go on, always with her in my heart,” she said, her voice breaking at times. “It seemed that Minnesota also came together as a community that day to support those they had never met.”
Burke’s experience led her to change her career plans. She earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology and now works as a mental health case manager.
Shelley Leeson, who lives near the training facility, walked over to the dedication with her dog, Sammy, a mixed-breed stray who was himself rescued from a building that was set to be torn down.
Leeson’s parents had driven from Bloomington to have lunch with her on the day of the bridge collapse, driving over it twice in the hours before it crumpled.
“It’s always just been really meaningful to me,” she said. “Life is so unpredictable. Life is short and you really have to cherish it.”
John Reinan • 612-673-7402