Paul Hashagen describes the keeping of a promise to New York City firefighters made just after the Civil War to return a kindness, “should misfortune ever befall the Empire City.” On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the nation’s attention was drawn to the live TV coverage of the unfolding...
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The New Yorkers formed a committee to raise funds and within one week had accumulated more than $5,000. This money purchased a new silver-mounted hose carriage, with 10 lengths of new hose. One hundred fire hats, red shirts, belts, trumpets, and white fire hats for the chief and his assistants were included in the shipment that headed south in early March. Fourteen members of the New York Firemen’s Association committee traveled by rail as the fire gear sailed on board the steam ship Andalusia.
Twenty-four hours later, the ship caught fire and sank, with the hose carriage and fire gear, off Cape Hatteras, NC. The New York firemen simply returned to fund raising and soon replaced the lost apparatus and gear and again headed south. This time, the equipment arrived intact. The New York firemen then rolled up their sleeves and helped the Columbia firemen gather materials and build temporary housing for the rig and gear.
On June 28, 1867, the New York firemen formally presented the new hose carriage and gear at a ceremony held in Columbia’s Sydney Park. The people of South Carolina and Columbia specifically were extremely gratified by the gesture of the New York firemen. Former Confederate Colonel Samuel W. Melton was so moved by the actions of the northern smoke eaters that he promised to return the kindness, “should misfortune ever befall the Empire City.”
One hundred thirty-four years later, that promise was fulfilled when Turner and the students and staff of the WKMS and the Columbia firefighters joined forces and began enlisting partners in their fund-raising efforts. Turner sent letters to the parents of her students explaining the specifics of the plan and asking for their support. “Buying this truck is an investment we can’t afford not to make,” she wrote. “Our fire truck will represent us on the streets of New York City – we need you aboard!”
The parents joined the 1,300 WKMS students and networking began in earnest. Every possible avenue of fund raising was explored. Bake sales, car washes, and T-shirt and button sales began in earnest. Sixty students with parents were turned loose at the University of South Carolina homecoming game. Students worked their way from tailgater to tailgater selling buttons and asking for donations. Their efforts paid off handsomely as the football fans donated $18,000 in one day.
The network began expanding as the local media picked up the story. Neville Lorick of South Carolina Electric and Gas rallied his troops and also helped WKMS get a booth at the State Fair. Samuel Tenenbaum, who is described by Turner as “the godfather of giving,” helped with contacts that reached across the city and state. While having dinner with William Murray, a New York lawyer, philanthropist and graduate of the University of South Carolina, Tenenbaum explained the school’s fund-raising efforts. Murray was so impressed that he pledged to contribute $100,000 when the school reached $250,000.
The local coverage was soon picked up by the national media and the fund raisers began receiving donations from California, Canada, Alaska and from as far away as China. Many expressed thanks to the school for finding a way that they, the contributors, could make a meaningful gesture.
The WKMS decided they wanted to adopt a fire company in New York City to personalize their efforts. Jansen recommended Ladder Company 101 in Brooklyn, which had lost seven firefighters and its hook and ladder truck on Sept. 11. Jansen, while a member of the New York Fire Patrol and as an auxiliary fireman in New York City, used to ride with Ladder 101 in the 1950s and ’60s.
Captain Tom Giordano of Ladder 101 was invited to visit the school and meet those involved in buying the truck. Giordano and three of his men traveled to South Carolina and were the guests of honor of the White Knoll Middle School, the City of Columbia and the State of South Carolina.