NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK (HawaiiNewsNow) - On the back wall of Engine 39/Ladder 16 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, plaques memorializing firefighters Robert Curatolo and Raymond Murphy — laddermen who made the supreme sacrifice while in performance of duty at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 — hang proudly.
The plaque for firefighter Raymond Nakovics says he died in 1998 while protecting life and property in the city of New York.' Lieutenant James Moran, Jr.'s notes that he bravely served this department when he died fighting a fire in September of 2000.
An empty spot on the wall nearby will soon hold a new plaque memorializing a fallen firefighter — one that's been etched with the face of Trucker Dukes, a three-year-old Maui boy who was adopted by the FDNY during his fatal fight with childhood neuroblastoma.
"We take it upon ourselves as our responsibility, as our duty, to honor our fallen. It's also our duty to take care of their families," said Firefighter Francisco Ruiz, affectionately referred to by Trucker as 'Uncle Cisco' and one of his best friends in the department. "The plaques that we make to honor our fallen make their way into the firehouse to get proudly displayed on the sacred walls inside."
Dukes, the son of a Maui County firefighter, befriended firefighters with the FDNY while receiving treatment in the city and was made an honorary member of the New York Fire Department shortly before he died of cancer. On Saturday, the first anniversary of his death, a ceremony was held at the firehouse on 67th Street to unveil the Trucker plaques that will soon hang in stations across the city.
"I have never been to a plaque dedication for a non-firefighter," said Chief Michael Gala, Manhattan Assistant Borough Commander with the FDNY. "That has to let you know how special that little boy was, that he will be memorialized in this firehouse for eternity."
Members of several New York City fire houses — touched by the generosity of the people from Hawaii when 23 of them visited Maui for Trucker's funeral services last year — reached into their own pockets to fly Trucker's parents, Shauna and Joshua, to Manhattan for the ceremony.
The pain of Trucker's death, they say, will always remain, but gestures like that of the FDNY remind them that their son's legacy is felt far and wide.
"This day will always kind of be a punch in the gut. There's always gonna be that heaviness, that weight that we carry," said Joshua Dukes. "But it also brings to mind just sense of community, the sense of love and friendship that we have, how blessed we are."
"He left really big footprints on this planet," Dukes continued. "Even though he only had size 6 fire boots. I'm grateful for it."