This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of a day we will never forget: the 9/11 attacks.
Shortly after, the good folks in Oklahoma opened their hearts and their wallets and gave a brand-new heavy rescue truck to New York City to replace one that was destroyed. That Spirit of Oklahoma Truck is now back in Oklahoma, but it was a long road to get here.
In May 2002, the Spirit of Oklahoma was dedicated to the firefighters and people of New York City.
“It’s a wonderful thing from the heart and the heartland to our friends in New York City,” Oklahoma City Firefighter and Murrah bombing spokesperson Jon Hansen said back then.
It was Hansen's idea to build the truck. After the Murrah building bombing, several New York City firefighters came to Oklahoma City to help.
“That’s kind of where it started was that bond,” said Sammy Martin, a former Tinker firefighter who also worked with the Murrah rescue efforts.
After the September 11 attacks Jon and Sammy were both working for OKC Freightliner when Jon found out several of those same firefighters who were here in OKC were killed on 9/11. They worked together to build the heavy rescue truck.
“We inscribed their names on the side of the truck,” recalled Martin.
But after 20 years of service, The Spirit of Oklahoma was put out to pasture, sold at an auction to a Massachusetts man who bought it for scrap. Until he realized what it was.
“The initial picture on the front of the truck, it said Spirit of Oklahoma. Some of it peeled off,” recalled Calera Fire Chief Brian Norton.
Norton was scrolling through Facebook Marketplace when he saw it.
“I got excited and was like ‘Oh my goodness what did I find here and why is it here?’”
Norton, who was also deployed following the 9/11 attacks, started contacting other departments. But no one wanted to buy it.
“Jake and I finally was like, ‘I guess we’re going to have to do this,’” said Chief Norton.
The truck's owner gave them 14 days to raise the money.
“It was stressful. Very, very stressful,” said Lt. Jake Trujillo who was working with Norton on the fundraising.
On the 14th day they only had $10,000 of the $25,000 they needed.
“It was about one o’clock that afternoon,” recalled Trujillo. “My phone’s going off: ding, ding, ding and I’m like what’s going on. It’s your GoFundMe page has reached your campaign threshold. I’m like what? And there’s $25,000 in the GoFundMe and I’m like what’s going on? An anonymous $15,000 donation on the last day at 1 p.m.”
A firefighter from Adair agreed to transport the truck and Norton and Trujillo met him at Liberty Park in Pennsylvania to bring the Spirit of Oklahoma home.
“There was kind of a lot of emotions that went through your head when you saw the truck, that this truck has a bigger meaning to so many people. And then somehow, we were the owners of it. It was kind of unreal,” said Norton.
The trip home met with almost as much fanfare as when it was delivered.
“We had a lot of people posting on our Facebook page. People from West Virginia, ‘Hey, it just went through this little town along the way.’ You didn’t have to talk to Ray to find out where you were. Just go to Facebook and you could follow the truck the whole way.’
The final stretch complete with a police escort.
And now the real work begins. Volunteer firefighters including Trujllo, who is a trained mechanic, are working to restore the truck in their spare time.
“My family comes out and helps out,” he said. “Kind of get my kids involved in the history. Get my kids involved in what they have to do as productive citizens. Volunteerism in communities and creating that volunteer mindset.”
The department is still collecting donations of money, parts, and expertise with the goal to at least have the Spirit roadworthy by September 11. A rolling representative of a day we will never forget and the spirt of Oklahomans.
“It was the perfect memorial for everyone that this affected,” said Norton.