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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
New heroes of the nation
A NYSE trader thanks two firefighters
Ryan Dilley

Americans flocked to join the rescue at the World Trade Center, but it is the New York firefighters who have won a special place in the nation's hearts.

In the city's cafes and diners, New Yorkers leaf through the Sunday papers. The tragedy at the World Trade Center was captured in so many horrific, heart-rending and poignant images, yet still many readers are halted by the centre pages of the New York Times.

NY residents line up to say thanks
NYC residents line up to say thank you
The spread carries passport photographs of every one of the 343 firefighters who were lost in the 11 September attack.

Rescuers rushed to "ground zero" from the length and breadth of the United States, but it is the efforts of the city's own firefighters - struggling with their grief as well as the WTC's smoking debris - which have won special praise.

As well as the hand-delivered donations flooding into the city's flower-decked fire stations, children across the city have set up lemonade and chocolate brownie stalls on street corners to raise money for the families of the missing and dead firefighters.

Display of support

The Fire Department of New York logo is now almost as common a sight as the stars and stripes, as dignitaries and ordinary citizens alike feel moved to display their support for the service.

My children want to be firemen when they grow up

Camille Tokerud
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani alternates a firefighter's cap and jacket, with ones bearing the New York police badge as he tours the disaster site.

And as televised coverage of baseball and American football resumes, studio anchormen and commentators have also donned FDNY shirts. Even the trendy designer labels of the presenters on MTV have given way to the department's merchandise.

For more than a decade, Nat Freedman has been selling FDNY caps, shirts, coats and even chef's aprons from his shop next door to the fire station of Ladder 20.

"There's been a massive leap in sales, but this is certainly not the way we wanted the business to grow," he says.

Uniforms on a rack waiting for buyers
Ladder 20 lost seven of its members in the WTC disaster. "I used to play Santa at the fire house every Christmas. They were like my own kids."

Mr Freedman says orders are coming in from every state, with his mail order business now facing a three-week backlog.

The half-dozen staff of the small shop, already rushed off their feet by a constant flow of customers, have taken the phone off the hook. The move was decided partly because so many people have been calling the shop not to place orders, but to express their grief and anger at the hundreds of deaths.

A model of a firefighter is new object of desire
"Americans look to their firefighters, and America's firefighters have always looked to those here in New York. They embody what we feel is best in this country, putting service to others before their own personal safety," says Mr Freedman, as a young New Yorker scoops up a pile of blue T-shirts and carries them to the cash register.

"The pride that we're helping people to show their support for the fire department may come later," says Mr Freedman, "but right now that doesn't help with the emotional pain of losing those boys next door."

New idols

Camille Tokerud, lives across the street from the shop and fire house. Her two young sons have just dropped off pictures they have drawn for the shrine growing by the hour around the station's entrance.

"My children have always idolised the firefighters here. They want to be firemen when they grow up."

Childhood dreams of fighting fires are fostered
She holds up a T-shirt and a pair of pyjamas she's just bought from Mr Freedman, measuring them against her sons. "These are just a way to show our support."

Already Mr Freedman contributes a portion of his profits to firemen's charities, but on hearing that he plans to sell a special T-shirt with all proceeds going the Firemen's Relief Fund, several customers vow to return to make more purchases.

Mr Freedman is not alone in doing a roaring apparel trade in the wake of 11 September's terrorist attack. Within days of the WTC collapse, the city's tourist shops and sidewalk stalls were moving aside their "I Love New York" T-shirts to make way for those bearing the such legends as "I survived the World Trade Center attack".

NY Mets have been playing in police and fire department caps
At one such stall near Central Park, a Texan tourist freshly arrived in the city says he has bought a dozen shirts showing the twin towers against the stars and stripes. Above the picture are the words "Evil will be punished". "I'm proud to wear it. I think this evil should be punished."

But not all Americans feel so comfortable with such displays of support. "I think they're cashing in on the disaster," says one young New Yorker surveying row after row of World Trade Center merchandise. "I think it's sick."

See also:

19 Sep 01 | Americas
Fighting fires, not rubble
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