NEW YORK - A fire truck that rushed to the aid of victims on 9/11 returned to the World Trade Center site Wednesday as it was lowered like a huge flag-draped coffin into exhibition space for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
The truck was from the city fire department's Ladder Company 3, which helped civilians escape from the trade center's north tower on Sept. 11, 2001. The vehicle had sped to the twin towers from its firehouse in Manhattan's East Village neighborhood with 11 firefighters aboard all of whom died when the towers collapsed.
A crane lowered the 60,000-pound (27,215-kilogram) truck, shrouded in a white protective covering and decorated with the flags of the Fire Department of New York and the United States, 70 feet (21 meters) into the site as family members of firefighters who died on 9/11 wept, dozens of firefighters saluted and bagpipers played the national anthem.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, FDNY Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano and about 100 members of the FDNY, including all of the members of the current Ladder Company 3, stood solemnly during the ceremony. The company's current fire truck, parked nearby on the site, raised its ladder in salute as the crane moved the shrouded truck to an opening in the roof of the museum, which is in the bowels of the site.
The under-construction One World Trade Center skyscraper towered over the ceremony, its mirror-like skin shimmering under the hot sun. All around were signs of rebirth and reconstruction: Cranes hovered over the site and construction workers in safety helmets milled around as dust choked the air.
To some, the ceremony was like a second funeral for the Ladder Company 3 firefighters who died nearly 10 years ago.
"It's almost like saying goodbye again," said Carolyn Brown, 47, whose brother Patrick "Paddy" Brown led the firefighters of Ladder Company 3 on 9/11. "It's also more closure."
She dabbed her teary eyes with a tissue during the ceremony, and afterward said she hoped that museum visitors who see the truck will be reminded of the sacrifice that her brother and his fellow first responders made.
"They gave their lives for everybody else here," she said, adding that simply seeing the damage to the fire truck would likely elicit a physical reaction. "When they see that, it's going to mean more. They will see it and feel it."
Maureen Dewan-Gilligan, whose 35-year-old brother, Gerard Dewan, was a firefighter with Ladder 3, also hoped visitors to the museum would react viscerally.
"I would like them to remember that the fire engine was crushed in a heartbeat," she said.
Michael Moran, a member of Ladder Company 3 who got relieved from duty on Sept. 10, 2001, and whose brother died on 9/11, said bringing the rig back to the trade center was part of the healing process.
"I think it's a nice tribute to the guys of Ladder 3," he said. He also hoped people would see the rig as a symbol of the firefighters' sacrifices. "They gave up all their tomorrows on Sept. 11."
Cassano said museum visitors will be able to learn the story of how members of the FDNY did their job on that day.
"They didn't ask any questions. They went to those buildings, not knowing who they were going to rescue," he said. "They knew people were in trouble. Unselfishly they gave their lives."
Joe Daniels, president of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, said the fire truck is emblematic of what first responders did on 9/11.
"This will be the authentic vehicle that will tell that story," he said.
The fire truck had been stored in a climate-controlled room at a hanger and was escorted to the site by the current Ladder 3 truck. The cab of the truck was destroyed in the towers' collapse and its main body and ladders were damaged and contaminated.
The memorial plaza opens to the public on Sept. 12, a day after the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack. The museum will open next year.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on the trade center, the deadliest single event for emergency responders in the U.S.
The truck will join the remains of other emergency vehicles at the museum, including from the New York Police Department, the Port Authority Police Department and FDNY.