After enjoying 47 years of serving the community as a volunteer firefighter, it has always been the dream of Jim Lewis to visit a New York firehouse. His dream came true when the Christiana Fire Company recently visited Engine Station 279, Ladder Station 131 and Station 10 of the New York Fire Department. The Christiana Fire Department and the Ladies Auxiliary made the trip thanks to the endeavors of Jim Groff, Jeff Pierce and Lewis Nixon, who coordinated the effort. Pierce established a relationship with the station after delivering a load containing over 10, 000 socks collected by students from the Lampeter Strasburg School District in response to learnresponse to learning that clean socks were in short supply for the volunteers involved in the cleanup at Ground Zero.Seven ladies from the auxiliary accompanied the volunteers on the trip with the intent of doing what they do best... cooking a good hot meal for those who serve others under adverse circumstances. If it's true that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then that must have had something to do with the warm reception the Christiana locals received on their first visit to the big apple. The ladies from the auxiliary can do more than cook up good Pennsylvania Dutch food; they can also stir up a good laugh and got along quite well with the 'Happy Hookers" of New York, who embraced them with open arms. The firefighters of Engine 279, located in the Red Hook neighborhood, call themselves the "Happy Hooker.", a sophomoric play on words, referring to hook and ladders tools.
The ladies prepared delectable Lancaster County favorites that included their famous chicken pot pie and apple dumplings, chow chow, Hammonds pretzels, whoopie pies, Lebanon sweet bologna, cheese and more. Having someone to cook for them and clean up was a treat in itself for the unassuming firefighters. After cleaning up, the ladies socialized and took pictures to document what they coined as a wonderful day.
Rich Maruccau, Deb and Sean Halper, former residents of Quarryville, volunteered on their day off to give the team of fellow fire-fighters a first class exclusive tour. The firefighters were equally intrigued with one another as they compared the differences in fighting fires in New York City to fighting fires in Amish Country. While it was clear that their brothers in New York City still feel the effects of 9/11 everyday, they are very close-knit and love what they do.
Familiar with finding fire hydrants with all the water pressure they need, Lewis said that the New York City firefighters could not imagine having to fight a fire with a tank truck. Overall the team from Christiana was impressed with the openness, candor and hospitality of their New York counterparts. Accustom to using 3-inch hookups, the New York firefighters also could not imagine contending with 5-inch hookups, especially with the stairs in the high rises they frequently climb. The life of a dispatcher in NY is also significantly different. Lewis likened it to being an air traffic controller. Despite the differences, the common bond we all share, says Lewis, is our commitment to service.
While the Christiana firefighters spend a lot of time at the firehouse, they do not sleep there. Fighting an average of 15-20 calls on a slow day and working 24 hour shifts, the New York fire-fighters catch a wink every chance they get, Lewis recounted. Richey did talk about 9/11 and recounted how he worked 12 hours at the station and 12 hours at Ground Zero daily. He said he lived in New York all his life and did not even recognize his own neighborhood in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center. "It was startling," Richey said, "the streets were clothed in so much debris."
"It was a great day," Ellen Erb said. "We all had fun, the New York firefighters told us to make ourselves at home and we did." The ladies know their way around any kitchen, but making their way to the kitchen at this station was a step up from what they are used to, 25 to be exact; there were three floors at the New York station. While there remain many lasting impressions from the trip, Ellen was most impressed that St Paul's Cathedral, located across the street from Ground Zero was unscathed by the attack on the World Trade Center.
King Solomon said, "wicked men are overthrown...but the house of the righteous stands firm." The firefighters of New York may not consider themselves righteous men, none the less, amidst the tragic events surrounding 9/11, it is amazing to consider that station 10, also located across the street from the World Trade Center, still stands. It is incalculable to measure the magnitude of the loss of the brothers of the FDNY on that infamous day, but their station is back in full force and serves as a lasting and living legacy of all those who survived 9/11 as well as those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The Group also visited the New York Fire Museum during their visit, located in a renovated 1904 Firehouse in the Soho district, the museum houses one of the nations most important collections of fire related artifacts and memorabilia from the late 18th Century to the present. A permanent exhibit to 9/11 is located on the first floor or the museum as a lasting memorial to firefighters.
Accustomed to sticking together and making the most of any situation, the group from Christiana had the opportunity to band together and entertain themselves when their bus broke down on their way home.
At the end of the day it was clear that the spirit of the New York fire fighter lives on. Even though the grief of 9/11 still casts its shadow, the sun still shines in New York City; the Ten House and Station 279 are still going strong and for some residents of Christiana the memory of 9/11 has become more personal.
The group has not forgotten their New York friends and has been active in making Christmas cookies and preparing a care package with ChrChristiana Fire Department shirts and a group picture to be delivered just in time for Christmas.