A Band of Heroes and their Fireproof Chevy

9/11 Chevy TruckIf you’re old enough to remember where you were on September 11th, 2001, you’ll know that it was a day that changed each of our lives, and our world, forever. Such shifts come to mind this weekend as we observe the ten year anniversary of that tragic day. Some of us lost loved ones in the attack, others in the subsequent overseas conflicts. We’ll never get those years, or those friends and family, back.

But we can honor the heroes who stood on that day, the emergency workers who dove into the dust and flames, who sorted the wreckage and chaos from the injured human lives in New York and Washington. Craig Monahan was one such hero.

Craig was off-duty that Tuesday, on Staten Island with two other off-duty firefighters of the Engine 24/Ladder 5 unit out of Greenwich Village. When the first plane hit, they jumped in Craig’s Chevy Silverado and sped toward the site, fighting traffic, using the shoulder when they had to. Craig’s friend hung out the window, howling at the top of his lungs in imitation of a siren.

Finding a space near the South Tower, Craig parked and left the keys in the truck in case anyone needed to move it. Then they got to work. They stayed after the first tower fell, then the second. Ladder Truck 5 was buried, several men of the unit with it. Monahan went in after them.

When he finally returned to the Silverado, he found it surrounded by and scattered with fiery wreckage. The left front headlights and turn signals had melted. One of the tires had bubbled. The foam around the steering wheel and the rest of the interior had succumbed to the heat, as well. Perhaps on a whim, Craig turned the key, and the Chevy started right up. With the help of a nearby tow truck, he was able to clear enough debris, and after changing the tire, drove away.

Craig used the pickup every day for weeks, ferrying the survivors of Engine 24/Ladder 5 back and forth from The Pit. When they uncovered the wreckage of Ladder Truck 5, they unbolted its name placard and hung it from the Silverado’s flank. Neighborhood residents cheered the unit’s fatigued remnant as their melted pickup daily rolled toward the site.

Years went by and The Pit was cleared. Work began on the One World Trade Center. Chevrolet approached Craig about featuring the Silverado in an ad to be aired during 2008 Olympics. At first he didn’t feel right about capitalizing on the story, but decided to donate every cent of his earnings from the commercial to another FDNY family. Quite a heroic move, even seven years later. As he says through his thick accent on the commercial, “If that truck could keep goin,’ then we could all keep goin.’” And we did.

Craig retired in 2007, and the Silverado now has a permanent place out of the rain at Hawthorne Chevrolet in New Jersey, though it still runs fine, and Craig takes it around for events once in a while.

Ten years ago Sunday, that burned and beat-up Silverado proved its mettle, and it’s still going strong. Not unlike the FDNY and the brave men of Engine 24/Ladder 5.

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