On September 12th, 2001, the Charlotte Fire Department received a call from Kara Coakley, sister of firefighter Steven Coakley, requesting assistance locating a flag. She explained to them that she lives in the Charlotte area and had lost her brother that was assigned to Engine 217, FDNY, at the World Trade Center on 9/11. This relationship would eventually grow to a close bond between her and the Charlotte area firefighters.
In 2012, Tom Stanton of Long Creek VFD, organized the Stephen Siller Tunnels to Tower run to be held the morning of the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb. The run is named after Stephen Siller, a firefighter who was killed on 9/11 after he got stopped in traffic in the tunnel trying to enter the city. Stephen donned his turnout gear and ran to the World Trade Center. He later died during the collapse of the towers. The Charlotte run benefited the Stephen Siller Tunnels to Tower Foundation and the FF Steven Coakley Foundation. Due to the close relationship between Kara and the firehouse her brother was stationed at in New York, members of Engine 217 attended the run/climb in Charlotte.
During the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb this October, I met four members of E-217. You can read about the climb in my post here. At the stair climb, one of the guys from 217 was Battalion Chief Frank Poulin. After Hurricane Sandy struck New York several weeks ago, Patty Poulin, Chief’s wife, reached out to Stanton and described how hard the guys of E-217 were hit during the storm. Stanton organized a trip for firefighters to travel to New York to provide much needed assistance to those who needed it the most, the firefighters. A tractor trailer was donated and donated supplies filled the trailer from front to back. Under normal circumstances, the firefighters in New York would have been able to help each other, but with so many sustaining total loses/ heavy damage to their houses, they needed help. Stanton put the word out for any volunteers that wanted to travel to New York to help our brothers with their houses. Firefighters from Long Creek VFD, Charlotte Fire, Asheville Fire, Wake Forrest Fire, Kingsport Fire, and several other volunteers came together to make the trip.
Many of us had never met before climbing in to the vehicles, but we all wanted to make a difference. We traveled to New York on Thursday and arrived around 3AM Friday morning. It wasn’t until we arrived that I learned the house that we would be staying in for the next three days was that of FF Steven Coakley. As we arrived at the house, it was a very emotional time for me realizing that the house used to be occupied by Coakley. This is where Steven ate his meals, did his laundry, and where he got dressed before reporting to E-217. Patty Poulin and friends had prepared the house for us. The air mattresses/beds had been made with fresh sheets and pillows and the fridge was stocked with drinks and food. We were all speechless with the hospitality that we received as we arrived.
Steven’s house was full of photos with his family, friends, and many post-9/11 memorial pictures. His coat was still hanging on the rack next to the door, and uniforms were still hanging in the closet. I found myself unable to rest, just as the others did, knowing how honored we were to be there to help. I had heard of Steven prior to traveling to New York, but every firefighter that gave the ultimate sacrifice that day had a story. We were so honored to learn his.
Knowing that we had to be at the Wyandanch Volunteer Fire Company #1 at 7AM to start unloading, we didn’t have much time to rest. Wyandanch is a department in the area that Steven was a member. I eventually dozed off and woke up about three hours later.
I will post soon about Friday morning and the rest of the experiences from the weekend.