Spokane County Man To Forge Symbolic Axe To Help Struggling Firefighters
Symbolism can be very powerful.
Several years ago, a Texas blacksmith created a small steel sword that is now used as part of a ritual aimed at preventing veterans from committing suicide. And now a disabled veteran from Elk, Washington is crafting a similar symbol for struggling first responders.
About four years ago, a retired Marine officer named Steve Danyluk and a friend, Danny Prince, were talking about the rising rate of suicides among military veterans. Danyluk runs a non-profit called Independence Corps, that helps vets. Prince is also a veteran and a retired firefighter.
“Danny pointed over to a shelf in his garage and said, ‘I’ve got about 30 pounds of World Trade Center steel over there. Maybe we can do something with that," Danyluk said.
He says that steel is an important reminder for Iraq War veterans, especially, of the importance of their service to the country.
“There’s a strong brotherly bond with the men and women of the New York Fire Department, or FDNY, just because that’s where, for us, from an emotional standpoint, that’s where it all started," he said.
Danyluk says the FDNY sometimes sends small hunks of steel from the towers to other fire houses. They thought of a retired Iraq War veteran named Boone Cutler, who created what he calls the Spartan Pledge.
“I will not take my own life by my own hand without talking to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to support my warfighter family,"
He sent the steel to a blacksmith in Texas, who fashioned it into the Spartan Sword. That’s a knife that’s now shipped around the country to ceremonies for veterans and first responders that include the reciting of the Spartan Pledge.
Danyluk decided to create a similar symbol specifically for firefighters. So he procured two pieces of iron that have ties to the Trade Center bombings and brought them west to Spokane, to a bladesmith named Ben Hayhurst.
“The two different steels we’re using, one is an axe that was used on Ground Zero. The other steel is a piece of I-beam that’s taken from one of the buildings, one of the Twin Towers," Hayhurst said.
Danyluk met Hayhurst through his non-profit.
“I’m a disabled veteran. I was wounded in Iraq in 2004 and part of the issues I deal with are mental health issues that come from my time in service. We’re starting to see numbers of that climb and climb among the firefighting community," Hayhurst said.
His job now is to make a fire axe, like the one used by firefighters at Ground Zero.
“It’ll be the same size as the original. The original is either a six- or a seven-pound fireman’s axe. It’s pretty large. If you were looking at it sideways in profile, it’s about four inches tall, probably about 10 inches long and it’s about an inch thick," he said.
Hayhurst has been creating prototypes. He expects the process of making his axe to take about two weeks. While he works at it, he may find himself lost in his own memories of 9/11.
“I remember very clearly when the towers were hit because I was with my unit when we were headed to a weapons qualification range. Everything about our life changed immediately right at that moment," he said.
Three years after that, Hayhurst suffered the injury that altered his life. He has since battled substance abuse and his own demons. That’s why being chosen to create the fire axe means a great deal to him.
“I feel extremely honored," he said. "Mental health is something I’ve struggled with pretty heavily since getting home. To be a part of maybe helping some other people and all the meaning behind it, it’s overwhelming.”
Hayhurst hopes he’ll be able to take his creation around the country, like the Spartan Sword, and see for himself the healing powers of the fire axe.