9/11 truck saved from scrap yard

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
Doug Marchionda Sr. with The Crane.

When Old Glory was hoisted above Elm Street at the firehouse Sunday, Penn Yan residents began to say, “Wait, when did we get two ladder trucks?”  A closer look would tell them that the one on the south side was still bearing the livery of the city of New Brunswick, N.J. An even closer look would show them that the 1973 Ward-LaFrance tiller truck built in Elmira has seen better days, but one of those days 10 years ago is what saved “The Crane” from the junkyard.

When Doug and Penne Marchionda were looking for a good used engine for one of their trucks, an old hook and ladder like this fit the bill perfectly; low mileage, well-maintained, and not much in demand. When Doug picked it up in 2003, he intended to just pull the engine and scrap the body as soon as he had time. Then he heard some of the Crane’s story.

On Sept. 11, 2001 when the planes struck the World Trade Center, almost every ladder truck in Manhattan, Jersey City, and Hoboken was called to assist. No one knew if more attacks were on the way, and in a city of skyscrapers, there was no shortage of possible targets. More ladder trucks were called from outlying cities and towns to standby. The Crane and its crew made their way from New Brunswick east to wait in Hoboken near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel and just across the Hudson River from the Twin Towers.

The crew stood riveted as the plumes of smoke fumed from the highest landmark of America’s greatest city, and they shouted in horror as the watched the towers collapse – first one and then the other – knowing that their brother firefighters were being buried alive beneath those tons of rubble. The Crane was a silent witness to that tragedy.

Once Marchionda heard of this, he could not bring himself to go through with his plans for the old truck. “I knew it had to be here for this day,” he said as he gazed up at the flag suspended between his faded and rusty monument to the memory of 9/11 and the gleaming newer ladder truck of the PYFD.

As the 9/11 Memorial Motorcycle Ride sponsored by Willie Allison of The Valley Inn came through Penn Yan, the two ladder trucks and the flag formed a tribute arch, and more than one of the Patriot Guard Riders who were in the ride spoke of how moving it was to see.

Doug and Penne will keep the truck because of what she has done and the memory of what she witnessed. “She can reach as high as the new one, and if the fire department needed her, she’d be there in a second.”

Maybe the 38-year-old truck will be called to duty once again, but for now it is enough for “The Crane” to be a moving memento of our national tragedy.