The Spirit of Oklahoma
The Spirit of Oklahoma was a Rescue Unit that was donated by the people of Oklahoma to the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. For 17 years the Spirit of Oklahoma rotated through all five boroughs of New York City before being retired in 2019.
The first page of the Spirit of Oklahoma’s story was written 26 years ago - with the blood and tears shed by Oklahoma and New York City. Below are the events that took place that led to its creation.
On April 19, 1995, at 9:02 AM, the State of Oklahoma was devastated by an act of terrorism that occurred at the Alfred P. Murrah building in downtown Oklahoma City. On that day, a terrorist parked a rental truck in front of the federal building and lit the fuse to an explosive that murdered 168 people and injured over 680.
Within days, multiple Urban Search and Rescue Teams were activated, including a team from New York City. This team was known as New York Task Force 1 (NYTF-1) lead by Special Operations Chief Raymond Downey. Chief Downey’s Team consisted of over sixty rescuers from FDNY, NYPD, and the Office of Emergency Management. NYTF-1 assisted with the search and recovery efforts for 14 days before returning home on May 6, 1995.
Fast forward 6 years later, September 11, 2001. One of the deadliest attacks on U.S. soil since the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. On this day terrorists flew two commercial airliners into the World Trade Center Twin Towers. On the morning of September 11, 2001, at 8:46 AM, American Airlines Flight 11 collided with the North Tower. Emergency personnel was immediately dispatched. Fire Units and personnel began arriving and rescue efforts ensued. 17 minutes later, at 9:03 AM, American Airlines Flight 175 collided with the South Tower. It was at this moment that Emergency Officials became aware that these events were not a coincidence. The United States of America was under attack.
The FDNY operates a Rescue Unit in each borough of New York City, Rescue 1 thru Rescue 5, respectively. These Rescue Units are operated by the Elite Fire personnel of FDNY. They specialize in the uncommon tasks of the Fire Service. Some of these tasks include auto extrication, water rescue, and building collapse. On 9/11 two of FDNY’s Rescue units were destroyed in the tower collapses and one was severely damaged. The loss of these units left FDNY in a dangerous situation for providing life-saving services to the people of New York City.
Jon Hansen, retired Assistant Fire Chief of Oklahoma City Fire, was working for OKC Freightliner. Jon monitored the situation closely and tried to find ways that he could assist. In late October of 2001, New York released the names of the First Responders that lost their lives in the tower collapse. Jon took that list and began highlighting the names of individuals that he knew. These were the names of the men that came to Oklahoma City in 1995. As more reports of loss continued to come in, Jon found a way he could help. New York was in desperate need of a Rescue Unit. Jon sat down with Sammy Martin, a retired aviation firefighter at Tinker Air Force Base, and told him his plan to build a Rescue Unit. The two of them then approached Freightliner with the idea to build a Freightliner/American LaFrance Rescue Truck. Freightliner was on board and suggested that they fundraise to help earn money for the unit. Jon contacted the FDNY with the idea and they provided him with the spec sheets for a unit they had on order. Jon and Sammy used those specs and immediately began building the new Rescue Truck. It would be manufactured with a 2002 Freightliner Condor Series Heavy Spec Chassis and outfitted with American LaFrance Fire components and Whelen lights and siren.
By mid-January of 2002, the truck was completed. Jon and Sammy took to the road to start fundraising hoping to earn the $485,000 needed. Jon believed that once the people of Oklahoma saw the truck that they would be willing to donate to the effort. He said it was the spirit of the Oklahoma people that will help this campaign succeed, and the name of the truck was coined at that time, the “Spirit of Oklahoma.” Jon and Sammy started by visiting Fire Stations and companies involved in the Fire Service. This caught the attention of the Oklahoma Superintendent of Schools, Sandy Garrett. Sandy and Jon ended up putting together a campaign that would involve Oklahoma Schools and on January 28, 2002, the Spirit of Oklahoma Challenge was kicked off. The campaign lasted until February 15, 2002, with schools from all over the State donating funds. The schools had raised $386,000 in 18 days.
Two Fort Gibson Elementary School teachers, Debbie Fast and Carol Scott felt a calling to help FDNY recover from the 9/11 disaster and immediately jumped in on the Spirit of Oklahoma Challenge. Carol even wrote lyrics to a song that the children sang to help with the fundraiser called, “We can meet the Challenge of New York City.” Carol and her son Jonathan were among the many students and teachers that were present when the truck was presented to FDNY.
Emergency Officials had determined that 343 Firefighters, 61 Police Officers, and 8 Medics had lost their lives in the tower collapses, 412 total. This list included ten individuals that responded with NYTF-1 to Oklahoma City in 1995. Their names are listed below:
Special Operations Chief Raymond M. Downey – FDNY
Battalion Chief John J. Fanning – FDNY
Captain Terence S. Hatton – FDNY
Lieutenant Kevin C. Dowdell – FDNY
Lieutenant Michael A. Esposito – FDNY
Lieutenant Peter C. Martin – FDNY
Firefighter William D. Lake – FDNY
Detective Claude D. Richards – NYPD
Sergeant Michael S. Curtin - NYPD
Police Officer Thomas M. Langone – NYPD
These 10 names were written on each side of the Spirit of Oklahoma with the quote, “We Will Never Forget”. Along with an inscription that says:
“Spirit of Oklahoma”
As in Oklahoma, the strength of your people will not be measured in your buildings, but instead, in your hearts. For therein lies the spirit that defines your character.
Because of the senseless acts of terrorism on 4-19-95 and 9-11-01, a bond between our people has forever been forged. May we find strength from one another always.
Oklahomans are steadfast in our support of the FDNY. As this life saving memorial to the 343 heroes who perished on 9-11-01 is used on the streets of New York City, we join with all New Yorkers as you proclaim to the world.
“Our Spirit will never be Broken”
With the funds finally raised, Jon and Sammy departed Oklahoma en route to New York City. On May 10, 2002, the Spirit of Oklahoma was delivered to FDNY. The Truck was presented to Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta and Captain Joseph Downey, son of Special Operations Chief Raymond Downey, in front of the Squad 18 Firehouse. The Spirit of Oklahoma was originally assigned to Squad 18 but eventually was reassigned to the Special Operations Command Counter-Terrorism Task Force. Throughout its career, the Spirit of Oklahoma was used to step into the “Acting” role of a primary Rescue Unit. If a primary Rescue Unit were taken out of service, for damage or maintenance, the Spirit of Oklahoma would be assigned its number and “Come to the Rescue.” It was a constant reminder to the people of New York City that Oklahoma would always “Come to the Rescue” in its time of need.
The Spirit of Oklahoma was eventually assigned a number. On August 2, 2004, the Spirit of Oklahoma was named Rescue 6. It was housed with Ladder 20 on Lafayette Street in the SOHO District of lower Manhattan. Rescue 6 was responsible for lower Manhattan from 23rd Street South. A patch was created for this new company and had the phrase, “Six in the City.” Rescue 6 was eventually disbanded on November 4, 2004. To this date, there has never been another Rescue 6 named in FDNY history. The Spirit of Oklahoma will forever keep the number 6 and will be displayed with that number for the rest of its days.
Unfortunately, in 2019, the truck was retired and sent to a surplus auction. A man from Massachusetts won the auction and the truck was delivered to his house. He had bought the truck because of its specifications and had plans to turn it into a car hauler. It was not until the tow truck dropped it off in his front yard that he had the chance to read what was written on the side. His jaw dropped to the ground. He could not believe that this was the truck he had bought. His plans of tearing it apart were no longer an option. For the past year, he had tried to restore it himself. But the task became overwhelming. He then began to realize that even if he was able to restore it, the truck did not belong to him. It belonged to the people of Oklahoma.
After a few dead-end phone calls and emails, the new owner took to Facebook Marketplace to try and find a buyer that would restore it and put it in a museum, preferably in Oklahoma. That is where Calera Fire-Rescue took over the story and started to write the final pages. Chief Brian Norton and Lieutenant Jake Trujillo of Calera Fire-Rescue decided they wanted to take on this task. They contacted the owner and asked that he hold the vehicle for 14 days so they can fundraise the $15,000 required to purchase it, he agreed. They started a GoFundMe page, opened an account at First United Bank, and began marketing it on Facebook. They originally set a goal to raise $25,000 in 14 days. $15,000 for the Truck and $10,000 for the transportation, travel, and initial restoration expenses.
On June 17, 2021, the last day of the Fundraising Campaign, the GoFundMe account had only received $10,640. But Brian and Jake had faith that something big would happen. They were hoping that big donations would come in at the last minute. Those donors would be waiting to see how successful the campaign would be. And, that big donation came through. At around 1 PM on the final day, a $15,000 donation hit the GoFundMe Page. The donation was simply listed as “Anonymous.” They did it!!!
To whom this donation came from, we cannot express the gratitude we have for you. You have saved a piece of Oklahoma History… of American History. We cannot Thank You Enough for your generosity.
The $25,000 goal was reached on June 17, 2021, and the Massachusetts owner was paid in full.
The next step was finding a way to transport the Spirit of Oklahoma back to Oklahoma. It was unknown if the truck would make the journey back to Oklahoma under its own power. So, the decision was made to have it transported by a transporting company. Brian and Jake began contacting trucking companies and getting quotes. They were eventually contacted by Ray Foster of Colcord, OK. Ray is a 20-year veteran of the Fire Service and owner of R&A Farms. Ray wanted to have the privilege of bringing the Spirit of Oklahoma home. He donated his truck, skill, and time, along with a trailer from Trent Pepers of Peper Patch Farms. Ray and his wife, Amber Dilley, departed Oklahoma on July 1, 2021, en route for Upton, Massachusetts. Ray arrived in Upton on July 3rd and with help from the Upton Fire Department Chief Mark DiFronzo and his firefighters, the Spirit of Oklahoma was loaded on the trailer.
In the meantime, Brian and Lisa Norton, and Jake and Elisabeth Trujillo, left for New York City to gather more info on the Spirit of Oklahoma, pay their respects to the fallen at the World Trade Center/911 Memorial Museum, and prepare for Ray’s arrival in New York City. The original plan was to have the Spirit of Oklahoma staged near the 911 Memorial and have an official send-off. However, they were unable to finalize the arrangements with New York City in time. This is where their friend Tim Brown came to the rescue. Tim Brown is a 20-year veteran of the fire service, a retiree of the FDNY, and a pre-collapse survivor of the Twin Towers. His story is amazing to listen to and we highly encourage anyone who wants to hear a first-person encounter of the events that unfolded that day to look him up and listen to what he experienced.
Tim was able to speak with the Liberty State Park Police Chief and make arrangements to host the Spirit of Oklahoma in the Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey. They were excited to have the truck there with them and even more excited that it would be there on the 4th of July. Liberty State Park contains the Empty Sky Memorial. This memorial is made of two walls that hold the names of every New Jersey resident lost on 9/11. However, when standing in a specific spot and looking into Manhattan, the walls portray the image of the Twin Towers still standing in their respective spots in lower Manhattan. As Ray was approaching the park, the Liberty State Park Police escorted him into the park and helped him stage the truck in a location close to the memorial.
The Spirit of Oklahoma was available for thousands of New York and New Jersey residents and visitors to see and touch one last time before making its journey back to Oklahoma. To top it off, Tim came to the rescue again. Tim made arrangements with the Tunnels to Towers Foundation and borrowed banners of the ten men whose names are inscribed on the Spirit of Oklahoma. Those banners were proudly hung around the truck helping to put a face to a name.
On July 5, 2021, Ray and the Spirit of Oklahoma finally began their journey home. The journey took 3 days and over 1,700 miles. After a few blown-out tires, and a couple of long driving days, Ray finally arrived in Oklahoma in the late hours of July 7th. On July 8th, Ray met with the Calera Police Department Motorcade Officers, Chief Don Hyde and Officer Joey Scott, in Adair, OK. A full police escort was given for the final leg of the trip to Calera, OK. The escort was assisted by multiple fire departments showing their support as well as the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and even Tulsa’s News on 6 Helicopter.
The Spirit of Oklahoma finally made it to Calera, OK around noon on July 8, 2021. It was properly placed Out of Service by the Bryan County Communications Center (BCC). (The Spirit of Oklahoma (TSO))
TSO: COM Center Rescue 6
BCC: Rescue 6
TSO: Rescue 6, The Spirit of Oklahoma, has completed its final tour. Please show Rescue 6 Out of Service.
BCC: Rescue 6, The Spirit of Oklahoma, thank you for 18 years of dedicated service to the FDNY and the citizens of New York City. Thank you for carrying the names of ten brave men that assisted Oklahoma in its time of need and gave their lives on September 11th. May you finally find peace knowing your tour is now complete. Welcome Home.
Now that the Spirit of Oklahoma is back in Oklahoma, Calera Fire-Rescue will begin restoring it to a condition that represents its original look when it ran the streets of New York City. Many of the “Battle Scars” will remain as they represent the challenging work and dedication it provided. Calera Fire-Rescue has partnered with the Tulsa Fire Museum to help in the restoration efforts. Once the Tulsa Fire Museum is ready for it, the Spirit of Oklahoma will be on display for all to see in their newly built exhibit.
Throughout the restoration process, and after, the Spirit of Oklahoma will travel to and visit events and festivals. It will continue to be a reminder to all Oklahomans that we will “Never Forget” and “Our Spirit Will Never Be Broken.”
You can follow the progress of Restoring the Spirit of Oklahoma on Facebook.
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