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Fire engine at Ground Zero on 9/11 serves Cazenovia Area Fire Department 20 years later
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Fire engine at Ground Zero on 9/11 serves Cazenovia Area Fire Department 20 years later

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CAZENOVIA — One of the fire engines that responded to the World Trade Center to help with recovery efforts Sept. 11, 2001 is continuing its service two decades later at a rural volunteer fire department in a small Wisconsin community.

Engine 303 at the Cazenovia Area Fire Department was one of the fire engines that responded to Ground Zero in New York when it belonged to the Gamber and Community Fire Company out of Finksburg, Maryland, according to the Cazenovia Area Fire Department Fire Chief Darrell Slama. Two decals on each side of the windows of the fire engine mark the significance of the engine.

Slama said the engine is a 1999 Pierce Saber that replaced one of the department’s old engines from 1975. The fire department purchased it from Gamber and Community Fire Company in November 2011, Slama said.

According to information Slama received from the Maryland fire department, its fire crews loaded the fire engine with backboards to head to Ground Zero the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001. Seventeen members of the fire department loaded into two Suburbans, including a doctor. The first day on scene, crews helped shuttle other firefighters and emergency response crews in the Suburbans. For the next two days, crews from the department searched for survivors in the pile of rubble left by the collapse of the towers.

Gamber and Community Fire Company President Dale Bollinger confirmed the information about its former fire engine and the events the department responded to that day. He said the department replaced the fire truck with a new one once the Cazenovia Area Fire Department purchased it.

The fire engine is one of two trucks the Cazenovia Area Fire Department has in its station to respond to emergencies. The village fire department serves 100 square miles in Richland and Sauk counties, including the village of Cazenovia and towns of Westford, Willard, Ironton, Henrietta and Woodland. The fire department also responds as mutual aid to nearby communities, like Reedsburg, Baraboo, Wonewoc and Hillpoint.

Slama, who has served as Cazenovia’s fire chief for over 30 years, said the fire department is fortunate to have the truck not for its historical significance, but because the engine is an asset to the department.

“It carries more water, it has a bigger fire pump,” Slama said. He said the fire engine is big enough so the village’s firefighters can get ready inside the truck while travelling to an emergency scene.

Slama didn’t realize the fire engine had a connection to 9/11 until members of the Gamber and Community Fire Company requested the village keep the decals on the window of the fire engine.

“They explained they had purchased those in remembrance of the day they were actually at Ground Zero,” Slama said.

Recognizing the connection, Slama said he felt proud to have a significant piece of equipment from that day at its fire station. It’s a sense of pride he still feels today.

“Sept. 11 (2001) was a very sad day,” Slama said. “The number 343 is the numbers of firefighters that lost their lives on Sept. 11, so it’s kind of a moving memorial to them.”

The fire engine isn’t only a somber reminder of the events that unfolded 20 years ago.

“Fire departments they say we are all brothers and it’s just like helping somebody in your family,” he said.

Slama said he was talking to his brother and dispatching trucks on Sept. 11, 2001, when his brother told him to turn on the television to witness what was happening. Slama said he recalled the disbelief of watching the events unfold that day. He also felt dismay and wanted to spring into action and help.

“On one hand you wanted to be there and help but just the logistics of the situation made it impossible,” Slama said.

Slama said fire trucks have a life span and standards must be followed. How often a fire engine is replaced depends on a municipality’s budget. A new fire truck can range around $400,000, a price too big for a small village budget, he said. Slama said the village doesn’t have plans to sell the fire engine anytime soon and and wants to keep it as long as possible.

“At some point we will have to (replace it), but that won’t be my problem,” the 76-year-old Slama said with a laugh. “We’ve got an excellent crew of much younger people and they work hard and they are very dedicated… who knows five years from now or 10 years from now hopefully these trucks will still be in reasonable shape and who knows what our financial stability will be at that time.”

Slama said the fire department still keeps in touch with the members of the Gamber and Community Fire Department.

“We send them a Christmas card every year,” Slama said. “Usually it’s a picture of fire trucks.”

Follow Erica Dynes on Twitter @EDynes_CapNews or contact her at 608-393-5346.

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