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Moving tribute
Ex-New York firefighter restoring truck, starting charity to honor fallen comrades
Retired New York firefighter Frank Pizarro stands before a firetruck at Las Vegas Fire and Rescue Station 1 on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images
Story and photos by L.E. Baskow Las Vegas Review-Journal @Left_Eye_Images

Even after 20 years, 9/11 seems like yesterday to Frank Pizarro.

Then a New York City firefighter, Pizarro was among the first responders who rushed to the World Trade Center as fire, smoke and ash filled the city streets and skies. His memories of the mangled steel, sounds of chaos and the acrid air — a noxious mix of jet fuel, burnt plastic, decay, asbestos, and heavy metals burning at more than 1,000 degrees — remain vivid as ever.

“Three hundred and forty-three firefighters died on that day, and over 200 since, and I’m suffering from some things,” he said. “But regardless of the suffering, I don’t know too many guys that would tell you they wouldn’t do it all over again.”

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Retired New York firefighter Frank Pizarro rehearses songs at his home on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in North Las Vegas. Pizarro will perform at local events for the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images
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Retired New York firefighter Frank Pizarro poses for a photo inside the cab of his 1991 Pierce firetruck at Firetrucks Unlimited on Monday, June 14, 2021, in Henderson. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images
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Frank Pizarro's 1991 Pierce firetruck is pictured at Firetrucks Unlimited on Monday, June 14, 2021, in Henderson. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images
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Frank Pizarro measures a space on the side of his 1991 Pierce firetruck which is undergoing restoration at Firetrucks Unlimited on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in Henderson. The space will support a plaque dedicated to former New York firefighter Raymond J. Pfeifer who was killed during the World Trade Center collapse on Sept. 11, 2001. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images

Retired FDNY firefighter restoring truck to honor fallen comrades

He spent five months combing through the Ground Zero wreckage, inhaling dust and debris that ultimately caused health issues that forced him to retire after 22 years serving the people of his beloved hometown. But stepping away from his career did not diminish his dedication to the fire department and those with whom he served.

Pizarro moved to Las Vegas in 2017 to take better care of his health and marry the love of his life, Valerie.

Inspired by his years serving as a member of the Fire Department of New York’s ceremonial unit, which participated in memorials, funerals and other somber services, Pizarro wanted to continue honoring firefighters who have died.

Nick Giolito examines the bed of a 1991 Pierce firetruck which is undergoing restoration at Firetrucks Unlimited on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in Henderson.
Rust is seen on Frank Pizarro’s 1991 Pierce firetruck which is undergoing restoration Firetrucks Unlimited on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in Henderson.
Nick Giolito, above, and Frank Pizarro examine the restoration work being done on Pizarro's 199 ...
Nick Giolito, above, and Frank Pizarro examine the restoration work being done on Pizarro's 1991 Pierce Pumper fire engine Aug. 4 at Firetrucks Unlimited in Henderson.

In 2019, Pizarro purchased a retired 1991 Pierce Pumper fire engine from the Old Tappan Volunteer Fire Department in New Jersey “for a song” as part of his new mission. He also created a nonprofit called The Firefighter Memorial Transport to restore and retrofit the truck so it can be used to carry caskets of fallen firefighters across the West Coast.

“For a song” was a fitting price for Pizarro, who grew up singing in a gospel choir and crooning along to R&B classics. Later, he shared the stage with Barbra Streisand, James Ingram and Tony Bennett. He also toured with the original members of the Platters and performed alongside the Temptations and the Four Tops, among others. And he’s proudly sung the national anthem before games for the New York Mets, Yankees and Rangers.

Nodes on his lungs and multiple surgeries from complications after 9/11 have limited his singing lately. He still performs at firehouses when he can, and he is planning to do so this week at events honoring the anniversary of the attacks.

“I don’t pass up the chance to sing the national anthem, “God Bless America” or at a benefit, because that’s a way I can serve now,” Pizarro said.

Music, he says, has helped him get through dark times, including two tours in Iraq during Desert Storm, and all the 9/11 aftermath and anniversaries.

“My dream is to have a New York-style firehouse to park the truck in and offices for the char ...
“My dream is to have a New York-style firehouse to park the truck in and offices for the charity upstairs,” Frank Pizarro said of his nonprofit and its fire truck restoration project.
Jomar Reyes mixes paint for the panels of Frank Pizarro’s 1991 Pierce firetruck at Firetrucks Unlimited on Friday, June 25, 2021, in Henderson.
Horacio Sanchez buffs out the side of Frank Pizarro’s 1991 Pierce firetruck at Firetrucks Unlimited on Friday, June 25, 2021, in Henderson.

For now, Pizarro, 53, spends hours removing rust, fixing parts and painting his fire truck, currently parked at Henderson’s Firetruck Unlimited, a family-owned company that specializes in refurbishing used fire engines for departments.

“My dream is to have a New York-style firehouse to park the truck in and offices for the charity upstairs,” he said. “It would be nice to have a memorial garden out back also where the families can come to relax and reflect in.” He also hopes one day to be able to provide support to widowed spouses/partners and provide scholarships for children, in addition to other services.

“I’ve been honored by the embracing that’s gone on here to me, and decided to start this charity to give not only to the brotherhood but also the state of Nevada,” Pizarro said. “You have five different fire departments here and each one couldn’t have their own truck. It would be a shared resource and the charity would support it so no families would bear the burden of an expense. The loss is huge enough already.”

L.E. Baskow is a Review-Journal photographer. Contact him at lbaskow@reviewjournal.com or @Left_Eye_Images.

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