Engine 343 is pictured in front of the Tribute in Lights memorial at Ground Zero on September 10, 2010. Photo by Butch Moran
Photo credit: Photo by Butch Moran
T he FDNY Fire Family Transport Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation that provides transportation for the families of injured firefighters. The central focus of the foundation is assisting the families of firefighters in their times of greatest need, in transporting firefighters, family members and department personnel to and from medical institutions both for care and family support. It will even take family members to the grocery store, if necessary. The foundation has a small fleet of vehicles that were purchased with money raised through fundraising events.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the foundation wanted to honor the 343 members of the FDNY who died in the line of duty that day. It was decided that all FDNY members who perished that day should become members of their own new company. The idea of an “Engine Company for the Fallen” was born. This company would become known as Engine 343.
The Perfect Apparatus
Once the concept of Engine 343 was established, the next step was to find an apparatus that could best represent that hallowed company. John A. “Woody” Woodall of the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Foundation and a close friend of the Fire Family Transport Foundation, had a journal featuring old Mack fire apparatus. After weighing all options, it was decided that a 1951 Mack was the perfect apparatus.
Woodall told Pat Concannon, president and founder of the Fire Family Transport Foundation, that he knew of a 1951 Mack stored in a barn in Wade, NC. Concannon and the foundation then set out to raise the money to purchase this apparatus. With the help of individual donations from friends and family of no more than $500 apiece, the money was eventually raised.
In July 2003, the foundation embarked on fundraising journey to Camp Lejeune, NC, to deliver a piece of World Trade Center steel to be used as part of a memorial on the base. The trip became known as “Leather Helmets for Leathernecks.” While the foundation was in North Carolina, Woodall took the opportunity to bring Concannon to see the apparatus. The rig was in the barn of Chief Jackie Lee of the Wade Fire Department. Concannon and Woodall test drove the rig and found it to be in good working order. They knew they had found the rig that would eventually become Engine 343.
The Road to Restoration
Once purchased, the foundation had to figure out the complicated logistics of transporting the apparatus to New York and restoring it. The Erwin, NC, Fire Department was the first to offer assistance. The members offered to transport the rig on a flatbed from North Carolina to New York. All expenses incurred were donated by various fire departments from North Carolina and South Carolina. The flatbed was escorted by 20 firefighters from various communities in both states who volunteered their time and made the trip at their own expense.
By the fall of 2003, the rig was in New York to begin the restoration process. A local shop would fix all the mechanical aspects on the rig free of charge. Periodic visits by local FDNY units would give encouragement to those doing the work. Every visit reminded them that they were doing something special. Once the mechanical aspects where fixed, the rig was transported to another shop for extensive body work and painting. One of the biggest jobs they undertook was removing the hosebed and booster tank to make room for the benches that are now in the hosebed of the rig. After the final coat of fire-engine red paint was applied, they completed their work by reattaching all the chrome.
Engine 343 was then moved to the quarters of the Manhattan Borough Command. This is where the finishing touches would be completed. Pete Ortell, a retired member of Rescue 3, did a magnificent job of applying all the gold leaf to the rig. He really made his work a labor of love when he donated his design and labor to the project. Tom Hughes, a member of the Chicago Fire Department, paid for all the gold leaf materials. Hughes ran a few fundraisers in Chicago to raise the money needed to accomplish this. The beautiful brass plaques bearing the names of the 343 FDNY members killed on 9/11 were donated by the Roberts family of Breezy Point, NY. This was in memory of Firefighter Michael Roberts of Engine 214, who made the supreme sacrifice that day. The plaques represent the roster of Engine Company 343.
Over the next year and a half, as more people became aware of the project, donations continued to pour in for the restoration of Engine 343. These donations did not only come in the form of money. Many individuals and companies donated equipment that would become part of the rig. The Los Angeles Fire Department donated two specially made chrome axes. They were mounted on either side of the rig. An antique brass nozzle, from the personal collection of an Elkhart Brass employee, was donated and affixed to the rig. A wooden portable ladder used by the FDNY in the 1950s was donated by the Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department in Breezy Point. The ladder was stained, the butt ends painted and the entire ladder was polished before it was mounted on the side of the rig. A multiversal was acquired from a Queens engine company and attached to the rig. This multiversal is now used as a stanchion for the display of our nation’s flag while Engine 343 is on display at events. The entire restoration process took about two years from start to finish. Finally, in July 2005, Engine 343 was ready to make its first official appearance.
Make It Official
As one of its first missions, Engine 343 transported Wounded Warriors from Rescue 5 in Staten Island, NY, out to Breezy Point on Long Island, so they could participate in the Adaptive Sports Program. This would become one of many events that Engine 343 would take part in annually.
Throughout the years, members of the foundation would volunteer their time to drive the rig to participate in various events. These events included parades throughout the city, including Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and the Salute to Israel Day parade. At first, participation in events around the city was limited because the availability of the rig was not widely known. Organizations would find out about the rig by chance or see it at another event and then request it for their next event.
Over the years, Engine 343 has become more popular and sought after at events. The rig can be seen transporting Santa into Time Square every year for the Widows and Orphans Fund Christmas Party at Toys “R” Us. Engine 343 is traditionally the first vehicle through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel for the annual Tunnel to Towers Run, commemorating Firefighter Stephen Siller’s journey on 9/11. The rig also leads the Father Mychal Judge Walk of Remembrance and can always be found at the Fire Family Transport Foundation’s annual Blue Mass. In 2010, Engine 343 even traveled down to Washington, DC, to participate in the Cherry Blossom Parade.
The FDNY command began to see the strong symbolism of this rig and Engine 343 also became involved with many more FDNY events. In fact, then-Chief of Department, Salvatore J. Cassano (now commissioner), decided to make Engine 343 an official rig of the New York City Fire Department. Every year, during the first week of June, the FDNY holds its Medal Day awards ceremony. It has become an annual tradition for Engine 343 to drive the James Gordon Bennett Medal winner (the department’s highest medal for valor) and his family into City Hall Park for the ceremony.
From 2005 until 2007, Engine 343 was stored and maintained at Ladder 102 in Brooklyn. In early 2007, the rig was moved to its current quarters with Ladder 18 in Lower Manhattan.
The Caisson Gets Rolling
In March 2008, Firefighter Victor Isler of Rescue 1 in the Salisbury, NC, Fire Department was killed in the line of duty, along with Firefighter Justin Monroe. Isler was a native of Long Island and a former member of the FDNY EMS. It was requested that Engine 343 be used as the caisson for Isler’s funeral. On that bitter-cold day, Concannon drove Firefighter Isler to his final resting place in a manner fitting his sacrifice. It was one of the foundation’s, and Concannon’s, proudest moments.
Following that event, the decision was made to purchase a second rig, one that could serve as a caisson, since Engine 343 is not properly equipped to do so. In 2010, and again with individual donations, the foundation purchased a 1946 Mack for that purpose. The foundation is in the midst of the extensive process of the restoring this rig.
One of the foundation’s biggest fundraising events is the Iron and Steel motorcycle runs. These runs deliver a piece of World Trade Center steel to destinations where there is a ceremony to dedicate the steel. On average, about 400 motorcycles and a supporting cast travel with Engine 343 to locations such as Shanksville, PA, Fort Benning, GA, and Arlington, VA.
Next month, Engine 343 will be on the floor at the Firehouse Expo in Baltimore, MD. On Saturday, the final day of the Expo, the New York-to-Baltimore Iron and Steel run will arrive at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. The 1946 Mack being restored as a caisson will also be there.
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For more information, see the foundation website at www.firefamilytransport.org. The FDNY Fire Family Transport Foundation is a non-profit organization. Anyone who would like to make a donation may do so by mailing it to the foundation at P.O. Box 157, Fort Tilden, NY 11695.