Oklahomans gave a lifesaving memorial to New York City firefighters following 9/11. It was a brand new rescue truck. Many have wondered whatever happened to it. So, we traveled to New York City this summer to track it down.
In the city that never sleeps, firefighters rarely rest. Crews at more than 200 fire stations across the five boroughs of New York City, answer around 1,500 calls each day. However, there was no greater response, or loss of life here, than on September 11, 2001.
In the attack on the World Trade Center, 2,977 people died including 441 first responders. Ten of whom had a special connection to Oklahoma.
"They helped us in our time of need and we wanted to help them in their time of need," remembers Debbie Fast, a former teacher at Fort Gibson Intermediate Elementary.
Fast recalls when Oklahoma donated a rescue truck to help in New York's recovery ahead. Called the Spirit of Oklahoma, the truck bears the names of those 10 New York City rescue workers who came to our rescue following the bombing of the Murrah building on April 19, 1995.
"It gave you goosebumps," Fast said. "I mean, it did me anyway."
The retired 5th grade teacher presented the truck to New York City in 2002, along with a group of other teachers and about 30 students. Holly Chapman was one of them, a 4th grader at the time.
"I don't think we understood the magnitude of it," Chapman said. "I think that we understood we were helping others and we wanted to do that."
Now, 15 years later, Chapman and her former teachers gather around a table full of memories at the school, including newspaper clippings, pictures and other souvenirs they collected during their trip to the Big Apple. They remember how it all started with a challenge.
"The song was the biggest thing for me," said Chapman. "It was about everybody bringing a dollar to help NYC."
Sandy Garrett, the state superintendent at the time, put out a challenge to all Oklahoma school children to donate $1 to buy a rescue truck for NYC. Fort Gibson turned in 425 dollars the next day, more than their 350-student population.
"Kids love a challenge, whatever it is, but this was a challenge for a great cause," said Carol Scott, a retired 5th grade teacher from Fort Gibson, who also went on the trip to NYC.
Along with private funds, Oklahoma met the challenge, raising $450,000 to purchase a gift intended to keep on giving. But many have wondered if it has.
"How many people has it helped? Do they ever think about us?" Scott said.
We found YouTube video from three years ago that shows the truck in action, responding to an emergency. However, we wanted to see for ourselves, so we set out on a quest in New York City to find it.
The Spirit of Oklahoma is no longer assigned to a particular station, so we went from one fire station to the next to look for it and even asked any firefighter we saw on the streets about it. They all remember the truck and our inquiries set off a chain of texts between firefighters across the city trying to help us track it down.
Our search eventually led us to the FDNY Fire Academy where they thought it was being used for training, but after a quick search around, it wasn't there.
Then, a lead from dispatch sent us across the East River into Brooklyn, Greenpoint to be exact. Here, we finally found it, housed as a backup unit. When we arrived, a couple of firefighters pulled up in it. It looks exactly the same, although a little worn on the inside, but firefighters tell us it has helped thousands of people and will continue to do so.
"As you get older you see more of how that made a difference," said Chapman.
And for the this group from Fort Gibson, the Oklahoma ambassadors for the rescue truck, they will forever remember that time when they brought the Spirit of Oklahoma to New York City.
"There are not too many places that share that same kind of bond, you know, Oklahoma City and New York City do," said Scott. "It was a just a privilege to be there. They made us feel like they were honored we were there, but actually it was our honor to be there."
The truck is not only used as a backup rescue truck but it's also used for special events throughout New York City.