“The Spirit of Louisiana” Lives On

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By Mia Freneaux; Photo courtesy of Ferrara Fire Apparatus

    The event that marked 2001 and the entire decade to follow is known as “9/11.”  In the aftermath of that terrible day, many Louisianans desired to help but had no idea how.  Chris Ferrara of Ferrara Fire Apparatus was also moved this way.  He shared, “It started with a weekly call in show that Governor Foster had on the radio.  A gentleman from Algiers called in and suggested building a fire truck after seeing a photo of President Bush standing on a burned out fire truck.  At the same time, Leo Honeycutt started talking to me about the possibility of doing a fund raiser for the exact same project.  We formed a committee – Leo, myself, State Fire Marshall Butch Browning, and Hunt Downer.  Shortly thereafter, the Governor’s Office called us, asking us to meet with the Legislature.  We arrived at the Governor’s Office, and minutes later Hunt was on the floor of the Legislature, which was in session, pitching the idea of a fund-raiser to build a fire truck for NYC.  He challenged the Legislature to raise the first thousand dollars for the “Bucks for Trucks” campaign, and thus it became a reality.”  What touched Chris the most was the response from the average citizen in our state.  “Here were school kids from all over our state donating their lunch money and holding fund raisers,” Chris related, “There was buy in from volunteer organizations, radio stations. We raised a 1.2 million, which was administered through the Louisiana Fireman’s Association, a 401C.  Governor Foster said, ‘If one of the poorest states in the nation can do this, what could others do?’ We got the FDNY specs, and fast tracked the construction of the ‘Spirit of Louisiana,’ one of the major accomplishments in a positive aspect on behalf of Louisiana citizens.” The Governor himself christened the chassis.  It took 45 days to build, using equipment and supplies donated by FFA and built by employees on donated time.  As a result, there was enough money to build two more trucks for NYC.

    There was a huge send-off campaign for the “Spirit of Louisiana.”  Its first stop on its way to NYC was to a Monday night Saint’s football game.  There it was unveiled on National News.  From there, a Louisiana State Police escort accompanied it to the White House, where President Bush had specifically requested them to stop for a presentation on the White House lawn.  It is the only firetruck in history to be on the White House lawn for that purpose.  The “Spirit of Louisiana” was escorted by a delegation of Louisiana firefighters, Hunt Downer, Governor Foster, and Chris and his family.  The event was carried live by Fox, CNN, and 4 other major channels.  As it passed through a state, it would be met at the state line by fire engines from all over that state.  At one point in Mississippi, the “Spirit of Louisiana” was being escorted by 100 fire engines in the motor brigade!  When it finally reached NYC in December, there was a presentation on “The Today Show” at the Rockefeller Center with Matt Lauer, Katie Couric, and New York Governor Pataki.  Instead of the usual 5 minutes, they were given 10 minutes on the show as Chris handed off the truck to the FDNY.  “That was the best day in our state history,”  Chris remembered with quiet pride, “Folks from Louisiana would go up to NYC just to see that truck while it was in service.” 

    The wonderful story doesn’t end there.  When Katrina devastated Louisiana in 2005, Chris made a call to the FDNY to see if they could help in any way.  Most of New Orleans’ fire equipment was underwater.  The NEXT DAY, New York sent a delegation of 400 firemen and 15 support vehicles to the aide of Louisiana – proudly leading the procession: the “Spirit of Louisiana.” “The firefighters from NYC were some of the hardest working we had down here, they made a tremendous impact on people,” said Chris, “The were housed at Holy Cross Church outside of Algiers.  They came with their own food, equipment, and manpower.  When I went down a day after they arrived to see what I could do to help them, they were out there mowing the lawn and repairing the roof!” 

    NOFD used the “Spirit of Louisiana” for several years, then in 2010, Chris heard it had been put in storage due to engine trouble.  He convinced the Fire Marshall to call the NOFD Fire Chief to ask if he could pick up the truck.  He completely rebuilt the engine and put it in like-new condition, spending $80,000 to do so.  Today the “Spirit of Louisiana” is used by the Louisiana State Fire Marshall’s Office and utilized by fire departments all around the state as needed, a symbol of Louisiana’s compassion and strength in the face of disaster.

1 Comment

  1. Ray Ashford

    September 12, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    Thanks for the story Mrs Mia! During that time, Louis DeJohn coordinated a massive fundraiser at the Lamar Dixon Center for one of the fire trucks. It was a daylong event with cooking contests and an evening auction. He gathered companies associated with the plumbing industry to contribute and participate in the event. There are times I may question his politics, but this man has a heart to serve when a need arises. Mr DeJohn has blessed our community, state and nation many times with his fundraising abilities over the years.

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