ASHEBORO, N.C. — As Americans spend today reflecting and remembering all our country lost on September 11, 2001, firefighters in Asheboro are focusing on a message of survival.
In 2011, Chief Eric Hoffman of East Side Fire Department in Asheboro was determined to get a new truck for his station, which he strongly believed needed the resources of a rescue unit to help with vehicle accidents in Randolph County.
The East Side station is primarily comprised of volunteers who cover more than 50 miles of territory.
Chief Hoffman realized a new truck like they needed would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $850,000. “We didn’t have that kind of money. We didn’t even have half that kind of money,” he joked.
“These trucks are so expensive, we knew we couldn’t afford a new one. So we were kinda looking for a truck that we could buy, do some work on it, and customize it for what we needed to do.”
He bid $55,000 on a truck for sale in Elizabeth, New Jersey. “We never thought we’d actually win it for that price,” Hoffman laughed.
But they did win the auction. In January 2012, Chief Hoffman and Captain Richard Lambe flew to New Jersey to claim their prize.
“When we got there, the first thing you looked at was… wow. That is a huge truck. And then, darn that thing is dirty! It was dirty,” said Hoffman.
He explained the truck was used on more than 350 calls per month in Elizabeth for more than a decade; firefighters essentially lived on the vehicle moving from call to call. It was in service nearly constantly.
“In New Jersey they have a lot of salt on the road so everything was corroded up, rusted. Most of the lights didn’t work, some of our roll-out compartments didn’t ever roll out,” Cpt. Lambe explained.
Hoffman admitted, “Walking around it we thought, man. This is going to be a lot more work that we thought it was gonna be. What have we got ourselves into?”
Determined, he and Lambe drove the truck from New Jersey to North Carolina, at some points not even able to fit it into gas station parking lots.
It was a slow trek in a dirty truck, and the two immediately knew the restoration would take months.
After they arrived back home, Chief Thomas McNamara of the City of Elizabeth Fire Department called Chief Hoffman.
“He said, ‘I don’t know if you were told but that truck was actually used at the Twin Towers on September the 11th.’ I said, ‘Do what?’ He said, ‘Yes. I’ve got pictures and documentation that shows the truck was sitting in front of the South tower.’”
Their “dirty truck” was a piece of history. It was one of many from Elizabeth loaded onto a barge and shipped across the bay to New York City to help on September 11th.
“He had pictures showing the truck sitting in line, waiting to be loaded on the barge with the Twin Towers burning behind in the background of the truck.”
New Jersey firefighters were right alongside it, ready to help.
A package of pictures and a letter from Chief McNamara explained their new truck operated “hours after the terroristic attacks of 9/11/2001…. It is my hope that these pictures will keep us connected and our kindred spirit alive and well. I wish you congratulations and all the best for continued success with this apparatus.”
Chief Hoffman and his firefighters were stunned, inspired more than ever to fully restore the truck.
“We stripped in down to bare nothin,” said Cpt. Lambe. “Every single bolt on the outside of this thing was removed. Everything was scrubbed, some of it was replaced.”
Captain Kenneth Lynch was one of many who helped restore the truck. He said they couldn’t help but reflect on its connection to September 11th. “We were here safe and they were up there when all that happened. It makes you think about it when you were working on it. Just how lucky you are,” he added.
“It’s just amazing,” Lambe said, gazing at the truck, which now looks brand new.
The restoration took 10 months. They were especially careful to preserve stickers on one window, which memorialized those lost at the World Trade Center and other firefighters who died in the line of duty in New York and New Jersey over the years.
Hoffman explained, “There were several of the guys that were very sad to see this truck go.”
He now wants all of them to know that from New York to Asheboro, the truck itself represents new life, survival and a continued effort to save lives.
“You truly hope that this never happens again,” concluded Chief Hoffman.”And that we’ll never see anything like this. To think truck was there. If it could talk- the stories it could tell. It is just awesome.”