The phone rang just before 9 am and it was my brother Craig calling from Toronto. "Turn on the television; a plane has just hit the World Trade Center." He and I stayed on the phone as the unimaginable became real. I didn't lift my eyes from the television for the next seventeen hours.
In the days that followed the images of rescue workers toiling away atop the pile of pulverized concrete, twisted steel and the shattered remains of 3,000 people had us all desperate to help... to contribute something to a protracted recovery effort that was going to take months. I didn't want it to be an easy thing, I wanted to do something that would keep me occupied as long as the digging continued.
I emailed three of my friends and told them I wanted us to buy the FDNY a firetruck and that our personal donations should sting a little. I got three responses... IN, IN, IN. My pal Tom wasn't sure my $150,000 firetruck cost estimate was accurate but he didn't hesitate.
And then because everyone I knew and worked with was feeling that same emptiness the big, simple idea of a firetruck began to resonate. By the end of the first morning I'd appealed, cajoled, extorted and bribed my way to a $30,000 start from my colleagues at Ariba. That was enough to get our CEO Keith Krach behind the project. Grinning that big Keith grin of his, he simply told me, "go for it, we're going buy the FDNY a firetruck."
A group of coworkers and friends (including the Brendans, Nancy, Johanna, Dan, and Debbie) stepped up to organize a variety of fund raising activities and challenges that eventually raised our tally to $90,000. Keith's own charitable foundation made up the difference for the Seagrave pumper spec'd by the FDNY. Grand total for a firetruck, $353,000. We might still be fund raising if it hadn't been for Keith.
But this is all preamble for the real point of this story. All of us have numerous chances to pick up a torch and make a difference during our lives. For my part I'd passed on many of these challenges, this just happened to be my time to lend a hand. It remains the single most rewarding experience of my life because we were given a gift by the firefighters and families of FDNY Squad 18 who received the truck.
Manhattan's Squad 18 lost seven men that day. Lieutenant William McGinn and Firefighters Andrew Fredericks, Eric Allen, David Halderman, Timothy Haskell, Manuel Mojica and Lawrence Virgilio.
These seven men became special to us, and when the truck was delivered, we traveled to NYC for the dedication. Even now it's difficult to describe what it was like to be there with the surviving firefighters and widows. Standing outside the firehouse on a cold February morning, as the departmental pipe band played Amazing Grace, we were all in tears but our spirits were lifted by the handshakes and smiles of the guys and the stories they told of their friends who'd been lost.
And briefly we touched the raw nerve of ground zero, standing on the roof of Station 10 on the very edge of the abyss we watched firefighters below searching for any remains of their 343 fallen brothers. Everything looked as gray as the surface of the moon. A little bit of that gray stays with you.
Coming home I felt an even stronger sense of indebtedness to the Squad for their great kindness and sacrifice. It took almost an entire year for me to design and execute a 28" x 50" memorial in slate and machined aluminum that remembers Billy, Andy, Eric, David, Tim, Manny and Larry. Though I'm far from NYC today my thoughts are with them, I hope one day to stop in to see the Squad again. The names and faces will surely have changed but the bond that was formed can never be broken. Thank you FDNY.
We'll catch up with the Ride to Vegas tomorrow.