FDNY firefighters remember Maui boy who battled cancer as 'one of us'

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK (HawaiiNewsNow) - The firehouses across the urban sprawl that is the Upper East Side of Manhattan all have something in common.

Like many of others around the world, the New York Fire Department keeps a 'riding list' near the door — a list that indicates which firefighters are seated in which positions on engines and ladders during any particular shift.

At Engine 44/Ladder 16 on 67th Street, the fifth position on the riding list never changes; it's reserved for Firefighter Trucker Dukes, the three-year-old Maui boy died of cancer nearly a year ago.

"He was one of us," said Lt. Bobby Jones, of the New York Fire Department.

Dukes, the son of a Maui County firefighter and an honorary member of that department, spent much of his young life in New York City, where he received treatment for stage-four neuroblastoma. He stayed at a Ronald McDonald House on the Upper East Side that happened to be near a fire station, and firefighters across the neighborhood there became instant friends.

"He was full of energy. He had his little red fire hat on. He wanted to see the firetrucks," said firefighter Richie Solero. "You become attached right away. He was a great little kid."

More than 20 firefighters from the New York Fire Department made the trip to Maui last March to attend their young brother's memorial services, and the boy's emotional impact on many New York City firefighters is easy to see.

Trucks race across Manhattan bearing stickers that say "Trucker Rides With Us," and his position on each fire house's riding list has an inspiring emotional meaning. Now mostly phased out of use, the fifth seat on a fire engine once was once responsible for helping to pull fire hoses into position and make sure the lines never kinked — Trucker symbolically helps firefighters drag hoses into positions every day.

Look in any direction and there are plenty of reminders of Trucker's presence; firefighters wear t-shirts and sweaters with the words 'Team Trucker' emblazoned on front and back, and photos and news clipping line the walls of a staircase that leads to sleeping quarters upstairs.

On Saturday, the FDNY will hang perhaps the most symbolic reminder of them all: a plaque with his likeness, commemorating him as a fallen firefighter. Adjoining walls hold similar plaques remembering Robert Curatolo and Raymond Murphy — firefighters from Ladder Co. 16 who died in the line of duty on September 11, 2001.

In many ways, Trucker's death impacted firefighters as much any firefighter's could have.

"If you join the fire department, you know you have the risk of getting cancer. You're a grown man and you can accept that," said firefighter Justin McNally. "But when you see a little kid with it, they haven't had a chance to live their life... It's not fair. And it's just really tough."

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