Louisiana's fire truck gift to New York gets White House send-off

Wednesday, December 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The city of New York grew one fire truck richer Wednesday, courtesy of the people of Louisiana.

A 29-foot, 42,000-pound pumper dubbed "The Spirit of Louisiana'' got a White House send-off from President Bush, who said the campaign that raised money to build the truck proved how deeply the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks touched all Americans.

"This is the kind of story that makes our country so unique and so different,'' Bush said. "It's a story that makes me so proud to be the president of such a great land.''

The shiny red truck, draped with an American flag, made a pit stop on the White House's south driveway before going on to New York. It will replace one of the 35 fire trucks lost in the debris of the collapsed World Trade Center towers.

Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster said the truck was built "from the ground up'' according to New York specifications, and will be presented in a ceremony Thursday. He said Louisiana residents, from schoolchildren to state police officers, raised $700,000 over three months to pay for it.

"For a poor state of the union to do that, and dig into their pockets for Christmas, made me feel as good as anything I've ever had happen to me in my state,'' Foster said.

The truck cost about $350,000, Foster said, and he is negotiating with New York officials about what to do with the rest of the money.

"I think we're well along in some talks to see whether they're going to need another truck,'' Foster said.

Bush said the Louisiana firefighters who escorted the truck should be proud of the generosity they have shown their New York comrades.

"They may talk with a different accent, but they share the same dangers,'' Bush said. "I know the people in New York City are really anxious to have you up there.''

Noting that Foster hunts rabbits, Bush compared Osama bin Laden and other terrorists now being sought in Afghanistan to the Louisiana governor's prey.

"Sometimes those rabbits think they can hide from the governor, but he eventually smokes them out and gets them,'' Bush said. "And that's exactly what's happening to Mr. bin Laden and all the murderers that he's trying to hide in Afghanistan.''

State Rep. Hunt Downer, R-La., challenged other states to raise funds and donate a truck to New York as well.

"If you want to do something, reach out and help your neighbor,'' Downer said. "Our neighbor needs some help more than we do now.''