A piece of American history is officially on its way back to Gig Harbor.
was recently approved as a recipient of an artifact from the remains of the World Trade Center by the September 11th Families' Association.
On Sunday, four of its firefighters left on a cross-country drive to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to escort the 986-pound steel piece back to Washington.
Kent Cooper, Rob McCoy, Josh Bissenas and Ryan Watson are taking personal time for the 6,000-mile round-trip journey. (You can track the crew on this map.) They are also responsible for covering most of the expenses, including gas and shelter.
The fire department said it teamed with the Gig Harbor Peninsula Firefighters' Association to apply for the artifact in 2009. The firefighter who spearheaded the project, , is currently deployed to the Philippines with the Army National Guard.
"It was (Kress') idea to go to New York and get the steel. He was big part of the planning and big part of the committee," Bissenas said. "We have a plan to update him on the way and take pictures with the sign (which reads 'Operation Kress').
"We're all very excited," he said. "It's big part of department history, community history, and it's a huge piece of American history that we're bringing back to the community to honor fallen first responders."
The crew is expected to return to Gig Harbor on Memorial Day, Monday, May 30, but their mission is still missing one final component, according to Assistant Chief Eric Watson.
"The committee is actively seeking grant monies or donations for elements of this special memorial that cannot be provided through donated time, materials and skills," he said. "The intention is to place the steel in a public area at one of our facilities as the cornerstone in a memorial garden. This memorial garden will be in remembrance of those victims and emergency services personnel who lost their lives on 9/11."
Watson said the steel will be housed inside the lobby of the headquarters building until the memorial is constructed. The artifact will be the second piece awarded to an agency in Washington. Kitsap County also received steel pieces from the organization.
. The escort team is expected to arrive to Gig Harbor about 2:30 p.m. at Fire Station 50 on Bujacich Road NW next to the Fire District 5 Headquarters.