It’s fair to say that the tragic events of the Buck Hosiery Fire have had a dramatic impact on the community.
In East Kensington, two men have been working to bring a symbol of their appreciation and admiration for firefighters to the community.
That symbol? A 1974 Ford fire truck, formerly used by the Fire Department in Kennett Square.
ENKA president Jeff Carpineta and Jesse Gardner, a Northern Liberties resident and artist are working to purchase the truck for Gardner’s Unsung Heroes Gallery at 2024 E. Arizona St.
Carpineta said the truck will be used in a partnership between the gallery and the East Kensington Neighbors Association to provide good deeds in the community, like to provide power and support neighborhood cleanups, efforts and events.
Carpineta said that he had been seeking a generator to help provide power at community events, when he found the truck for sale online.
“When I saw that, I called Jesse immediately. What can’t we do with a fire truck?” said Carpineta.
Gardner has long been fascinated with firefighters and has used them in his portrait work since 1991.
Gardner said he was initially drawn to portraiture of the workers when he became interested in profiling “invisible” people in society.
“I thought, who is doing the really dirty, dangerous jobs in this country,” said Gardner. “No one knows their subway driver or the firefighters down the street at the firehouse.”
He was very impressed by the firefighters he went on to meet, who he said are “larger than life.”
“It’s their commitment to rise above their own fear—that’s what makes them special,” he said.
In his career as an artist, the 55-year-old Gardner has painted enough firefighter portraits to fill his gallery – including one of Lieutenant Dennis Mojica, a New York firefighter who died in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Both Carpineta and Gardner said that since the April 9 fire that took the lives of Philadelphia Fire Lieutenant Robert Neary and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney, they have felt a need to connect the community with those who serve in the fire department.
“After the fire, it felt like the community was searching its feelings, wondering what’s next,” said Carpineta. “We are at a point where, in the neighborhood, we need things that are inspiring…that’s what’s important.”
The pair hopes the fire truck could be that inspiring symbol, but they need help from the community.
The men need to raise about $6,500 to purchase the truck, and they also hope to use the funds to create a memorial plaque to the fallen firefighters, Neary and Sweeney, on the side of the truck.
“There are people out there who put their lives on the line every single day,” said Gardner, who also said they want to include language in Spanish and Vietnamese somewhere on the truck, so that the entire community will see it as something shared.
In fact, Gardner said, he drove it down the street recently with his children as people cheered the truck on.
“I was screaming, ‘This is yours!’” he said. “Everybody can connect with a fire truck.”
If the pair raises enough funds to purchase the truck for ENKA, Carpineta said the truck could stand as a testament to all that firefighters do to protect the neighborhood.
“They don’t look at this as ‘is this area high-value?’” said Carpineta. “It’s about the lives. They just roll.”
For more information on the efforts to purchase the truck, visit Jesse Gardner’s website at www.jessejgardner.com/blog.
Star Staff Reporter Hayden Mitman can be contacted at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.