By Ryan Lavis Staten Island Advance
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — On the long drive home from Akron, Ohio, firefighters Joe Esposito and Tony Cavalieri of Rescue Co. 5 had plenty to reminisce about as they journeyed back to Staten Island inside the same company rig that carried 11 of their collegues to their fate on the morning of September 11, 2001.
“It was a little peaceful, eerie, joyful and sad. We went through the whole circle of emotions,” said Esposito as he stood in front of the refurbished truck, which served as the centerpiece during Sunday’s Bikers for Bini — an event hosted by the Carl V. Bini Memorial Fund, named in memory of the 44-year-old Rescue Co. 5 firefighter.
The mobile memorial was established through the Remembrance Rescue Project, a Chicago-based nonprofit formed by firefighters around the country to help children understand what took place on September 11, 2001. “The fact that we have this rig, and preserved this piece of history is an amazing accomplishment,” said Massimo DiDonna, chairman and president of the Memorial Fund and Bini’s son-in-law.
DiDonna and three Rescue 5 firefighters — including Esposito, who drove the battered rig back to Concord on September 12 — met members of the Remembrance Rescue Project on Aug. 21 in Akron, Ohio, taking the truck on a 477-mile journey back home.
Sunday’s event, held outside the Staten Island Mall in New Springville, also featured a 1,500-person motorcycle run, classic car show, monster trucks, food, vendors, raffles and a performance by former New York Yankee star Bernie Williams, among other entertainers.
In total, the organization met its goal of raising $200,000, with over 6,000 people who enjoyed an afternoon in the sun. Proceeds went toward its mission of supporting the community through scholarships, emergency grants and special needs assistance. The Fund prides itself on adapting to the changing needs of communities, especially in times of crisis.
Throughout the day, children and their parents crowded around the Rescue Co. 5 truck, posing for pictures with this piece of history. While the rig’s outside might have had a fresh coat of polish on it yesterday, no one there had forgotten its previously ash-covered exterior from its many trips to Ground Zero.
“For months after 9/11, we were going back to Ground Zero in this truck, hoping to find something good, then coming back, tired and filthy. This was our home at Ground Zero,” said Esposito.
On their 15-hour drive home from Ohio, the two mostly talked about their fallen friends. They pointed out pieces of the rig’s interior that had gone untouched for all these years — mostly mundane parts that their partners had added-on, like a hook to hang tools. By chance, they found a picture inside of their fellow firefighter, Lawrence Sullivan, who died last year from a disease linked to the remains at the Twin Towers.
“If he were still alive, he would have been on that trip with us,” said Esposito. “In a way the three amigos did drive that rig back together.”