When the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, struck New York City, killing 343 members of its fire department, it rocked the tight-knit community of Clintonville, Wis. The town of 4,736 is home to Seagrave Fire Apparatus, which manufactures vehicles for fire departments around the country, including the New York City Fire Department (FDNY).
“When this terrible tragedy happened, it felt like they attacked our brothers and sisters,” says former Clintonville Mayor Richard Koeppen. “It had such an impact because we’re the ones building the trucks for them, and over the years so many of these firefighters and fire department officers in New York were here in town. They hung out here, they ate here, they had refreshments at the local pub.”
Seagrave, founded in 1881, produces about 200 fire trucks a year for clients in towns and cities across the nation, including Baltimore, Los Angeles, St. Charles, Ill., and Milford, Ohio. Usually it takes 10 to 12 months to build a truck, but when New York City placed an emergency order for 54 vehicles, Seagrave’s 360 employees pulled together to build the trucks faster than they ever had.
In less than four months, on Jan. 22, 2002, the first fleet of four replacement vehicles departed Clintonville for the almost 1,000 mile drive to the East Coast. Though they departed at a cold and dark pre-dawn hour, workers, school children and citizens turned out to cheer the informal parade.
“In Wisconsin, that’s not a fun time to be out,” says George Kanugh, Seagrave’s marketing director.
“About 10 percent of our Clintonville facility workforce are volunteer firefighters and EMTs, so our employees feel quite a close bond with the FDNY,” Seagrave President Jim Hebe says.
A specially designed cast bronze commemorative medallion displaying New York City landmarks and the words, “Dedicated to New York’s Bravest 9/11/01,” was proudly mounted to the cab front of all 54 Seagrave fire trucks manufactured to replace those destroyed when the World Trade Center collapsed.
Wanting to do even more, Clintonville residents came together to pay tribute to New York City’s fallen firefighters by donating a new rescue pumper to the FDNY. Seagrave employees and Clintonville residents raised $340,000 over two years to pay for the dual-purpose rescue truck, a custom vehicle with a pump, ladders, hose and water tank.
“I thought it was far-fetched to raise that much money that fast,” says Connie Crain, a Seagrave electrician, “but they had a goal sheet out there, and it just kept rising and rising and rising.”
To raise funds, replicas of the medallions were sold by Kathy Schmoll in her Trophies and Treasures store on Clintonville’s Main Street, and nearby in Cindy B’s Pub and Grill, where visiting firefighters often gather, Cindy Beery had some available for purchase. Seagrave, the largest employer in town, also sold them on the company’s website.
Seagrave vendors made generous donations, and local businesses and farmers donated food for potluck meals, chili cookoffs, a pork barbecue, bratwurst fry and an ice cream sundae fundraiser.
“I was at every one of them,” says Jacob Gibbs, a Seagrave cab welder. “To be honest, I didn’t think there would be that much support for what we were trying to do. These trucks are quite expensive, but the community and everybody here, we all pulled together and we got it done.”
On Oct. 24, 2003, Hebe proudly made the presentation of the donated fire truck to the New York City Fire Department. “Fire trucks have a heart and a soul,” Hebe said as he turned over the truck’s keys to the FDNY. “They’re built to tirelessly support firefighters in their mission to protect their communities . . . I can assure you, the heart and soul of this truck is committed to protecting the crew of Squad 61 every day until it is retired.”
For more information on Clintonville, log on to www.clintonvillewi.org.