EKNA president and local artist hope to make a big purchase: a firetruck

EKNA pres­id­ent Jeff Carpin­eta and loc­al artist Jesse Gard­ner have an in­ter­est­ing idea to bring the neigh­bor­hood to­geth­er.

Jeff Carpin­eta, pres­id­ent of the East Kens­ing­ton Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation, chats with artist Jesse Gard­ner while seated at a 1974 Ford fire truck. The pair hopes to pur­chase the truck and util­ize it for the be­ne­fit of the neigh­bor­hood. Hay­den Mit­man / Star Photo

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 hmit­man@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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