Heroes of the Nation
September, 2001, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
By Ryan Dilley
Americans flocked to join the rescue at the World
Trade Center, but it is the New York firefighters
who have won a special place in the nation's
In the city's cafes and diners, New Yorkers leaf
through the Sunday papers. The tragedy at the
World Trade Center was captured in so many
horrific, heart-rending and poignant images, yet
still many readers are halted by the centre pages
of the New York Times.
NYC residents line up to say thank you
The spread carries passport photographs of every
one of the 343 firefighters who were lost in the
11 September attack.
Rescuers rushed to "ground zero" from
the length and breadth of the United States, but
it is the efforts of the city's own firefighters -
struggling with their grief as well as the WTC's
smoking debris - which have won special praise.
As well as the hand-delivered donations flooding
into the city's flower-decked fire stations,
children across the city have set up lemonade and
chocolate brownie stalls on street corners to
raise money for the families of the missing and
Display of support
The Fire Department of New York logo is now almost
as common a sight as the stars and stripes, as
dignitaries and ordinary citizens alike feel moved
to display their support for the service.
My children want to be firemen when they grow up
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani alternates a firefighter's
cap and jacket, with ones bearing the New York
police badge as he tours the disaster site.
And as televised coverage of baseball and American
football resumes, studio anchormen and
commentators have also donned FDNY shirts. Even
the trendy designer labels of the presenters on
MTV have given way to the department's
For more than a decade, Nat Freedman has been
selling FDNY caps, shirts, coats and even chef's
aprons from his shop next door to the fire station
of Ladder 20.
"There's been a massive leap in sales, but
this is certainly not the way we wanted the
business to grow," he says.
Uniforms on a rack waiting for buyers
Ladder 20 lost seven of its members in the WTC
disaster. "I used to play Santa at the fire
house every Christmas. They were like my own
Mr Freedman says orders are coming in from every
state, with his mail order business now facing a
The half-dozen staff of the small shop, already
rushed off their feet by a constant flow of
customers, have taken the phone off the hook. The
move was decided partly because so many people
have been calling the shop not to place orders,
but to express their grief and anger at the
hundreds of deaths.
A model of a firefighter is new object of desire
"Americans look to their firefighters, and
America's firefighters have always looked to those
here in New York. They embody what we feel is best
in this country, putting service to others before
their own personal safety," says Mr Freedman,
as a young New Yorker scoops up a pile of blue
T-shirts and carries them to the cash register.
"The pride that we're helping people to show
their support for the fire department may come
later," says Mr Freedman, "but right now
that doesn't help with the emotional pain of
losing those boys next door."
Camille Tokerud, lives across the street from the
shop and fire house. Her two young sons have just
dropped off pictures they have drawn for the
shrine growing by the hour around the station's
"My children have always idolised the
firefighters here. They want to be firemen when
they grow up."
Childhood dreams of fighting fires are fostered
She holds up a T-shirt and a pair of pyjamas she's
just bought from Mr Freedman, measuring them
against her sons. "These are just a way to
show our support."
Already Mr Freedman contributes a portion of his
profits to firemen's charities, but on hearing
that he plans to sell a special T-shirt with all
proceeds going the Firemen's Relief Fund, several
customers vow to return to make more purchases.
Mr Freedman is not alone in doing a roaring
apparel trade in the wake of 11 September's
terrorist attack. Within days of the WTC collapse,
the city's tourist shops and sidewalk stalls were
moving aside their "I Love New York"
T-shirts to make way for those bearing the such
legends as "I survived the World Trade Center
NY Mets have been playing in police and fire
At one such stall near Central Park, a Texan
tourist freshly arrived in the city says he has
bought a dozen shirts showing the twin towers
against the stars and stripes. Above the picture
are the words "Evil will be punished".
"I'm proud to wear it. I think this evil
should be punished."
But not all Americans feel so comfortable with
such displays of support. "I think they're
cashing in on the disaster," says one young
New Yorker surveying row after row of World Trade
Center merchandise. "I think it's sick."
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