Standing next to the mangled piece of steel, Westerville firefighter Tom Ullom's eyes welled with tears as he tried to explain what the twisted metal means to him.

Standing next to the mangled piece of steel, Westerville firefighter Tom Ullom's eyes welled with tears as he tried to explain what the twisted metal means to him.

"This signifies the strength of the American people. This is what's left," Ullom said. "We stood up."

For more than seven years, Ullom has worked to bring a piece of New York City's World Trade Center to Westerville. He wrote letters, made phone calls and persisted through bureaucratic red tape.

After all of Ullom's hard work, the 4,000-pound piece of steel from the north face of the north tower arrived in Westerville Aug. 19.

Ullom organized the transportation of the steel and then traveled to the Maryland warehouse where the metal was stored to follow the truck carrying it the entire way back to Westerville.

The steel will be paraded through Uptown Westerville as part of the annual Sept. 11 memorial ceremony.

It eventually will be placed in First Responders' Park, which is expected to be finished within the next year next to the fire station on West Main Street.

"We always had hopes that the steel would happen. We didn't know if it would, but we saved a spot for it," Ullom said. "For a while there, I didn't think it would happen, and now that it's here, it's surreal."

Ullom handpicked the piece of steel from a warehouse in Maryland in April. He said the crushed and twisted shape of the piece spoke to him.

"This piece actually shows the devastation of that day and the force," Ullom said. "This piece shows that something very significant happened."

The piece of steel spanned the 98th and 99th floors, Ullom said, and according to diagrams created by those investigating the crash of terrorist-piloted airplanes into the towers on Sept. 11, 2001, it was directly above where the first plane struck. It may have been hit by the tail of the plane.

Before the steel can be placed in the park, it will have to be coated with a protective layer and mounted to a base. The metal will be upright and will face the same direction as it did when it was intact on the Trade Center tower, Ullom said.

Plans for First Responders' Park also include a firefighters memorial. Ullom said the World Trace Center steel will help the park better represent all branches of first-responders.

"The tie-in here is police and fire," Ullom said. "It will represent all of those souls."

Westerville City Councilwoman Kathy Cocuzzi, who has been active in the efforts to establish First Responders' Park, said the World Trade Center steel is a great addition.

"The city is so excited about receiving this steel. We're so honored to have it," Cocuzzi said. "It's the way we're going to honor all of our first-responders, whether they're police, fire, EMS or dispatchers."

Ullom said he also is continuing to seek donations for the park and the firefighters' memorial. He said $90,000 still is needed to complete the sculpture "The Crossing."

More information about the park or them memorial is available online at www.wffmemorial.org.

jnesbitt@thisweeknews.com