NEW YORK - There's a special connection between the city of Akron and the Woodside community in Queens, New York. The firefighters of Engine 325 Ladder Company 163 lost two of their men on Sept. 11, 2001.
It's a loss that cuts deep for these men whose mission is to save lives. The people of Akron responded to their pain with a generous gift that keeps on giving up to this very day.
Through an aggressive community fundraising effort, the caring people of Akron raised nearly $1.4 million to provide this fire station with a new 45-foot ladder truck. They also provided New York City with two ambulances and three police cruisers.
But these days the firemen go about the business of their daily routine in the fire house --at least that's the way it looks on the outside.
After talking to retired firefighter Thomas Harrington about what happened on 9/11, the visible sadness on his face told another story. He described the many funerals he attended for fellow fallen firefighters and the many tears shed by the families they left behind. It was as if he transported himself back 10 years ago, and was reliving it all over again.
The bright side, he said, was the generosity of so many people from all over the country. Everyone wanted to help in some kind of way. He referred to the people of Akron as being "the most generous" to their Woodside fire house by purchasing an $850,000 truck in honor of those lives lost in the attacks.
Harrington said September 11, 2001 was rough, very rough. He said physically, the men of Engine 325 Ladder 163 have recovered, but emotionally it's still there. He also noted he has not been back to the spot where the Twin Towers once stood.
"It's just too hard," he said.
Some of the firefighters who currently work at this Woodside fire station weren't there in 2001 when Harrington jumped on the truck and headed to ground zero. But they preserve the memories of that day with various photos they keep posted on the walls of their fire house.
A 27-year veteran, Duncan Cooke, was there. He also was the first person to drive the new truck on its first run. He remembered it clearly.
"It was December 13, 2001," he said with confidence. "That's when we broke her in."
He remembered there were several reporters from Akron in New York that day hoping to catch a glimpse of the new rig going out on its first run. Cook said after waiting about three to four hours, a call came in and they had to rush out to a real fire. The gift from the people of Akron was already being put to good use.
Cook held the picture that shows Ladder truck 163 in action. He looked at it and said with such sincere gratitude, that "the people of Akron are wonderful."
The special gift from Summit County holds a special place in the hearts of these firefighters. They will always treasure the spirit in which it was given as they continue to answer the call to save lives.
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