Firefighters aid slain colleagues' kin


ROANOKE -Three Roanoke firefighters played Santa over the weekend, loading a van with toys and hauling them to New York to give to children of firefighters who died in the rescue effort at the World Trade Center.

The toys are earmarked for Squad 41, which lost six members, and Ladder Company 101, where Tom Kennedy, son of Smith Mountain Lake residents Bill and Eileen Kennedy, worked before he died in the attack.

Roanoke joined forces with Squad 41 after Roanoke Fire-EMS Capt. Jeff Beckner called a New York firefighter he knew, wondering if a few guys were interested in traveling to Roanoke to pick up a nearly $400,000 check for the New York Firefighters 9-11 Disaster Relief Fund.

Steve Gillespie and Gibson Craig came to Virginia, and a friendship was formed.

Roanoke firefighters immediately began thinking of more ways to help, especially when they learned that Squad 41, located in the Bronx, wasn't getting as many donations as the Manhattan firehouses.

After sending off $389,000 with Gillespie and Craig in October for the 9-11 Fund, Roanoke firefighters tweaked their own bank fund and began earmarking money for Squad 41. Then they began the toy drive.

On Friday, they headed north with about 300 toys and $46,500 - money going specifically to the six widows and 11 children of Squad 41.

The toys will be distributed to children in both New York departments and possibly others.

One reason the firefighters have so much for Squad 41 is because of donations from Martinsville and Henry County. Initially, the nearly $30,000 raised in Southside was to have been included in the large donation in October from southwest Virginia firefighters, but was going to be wired separately.

But Capt. Ted Anderson said he was hesitant about sending the money and not knowing exactly where it was going. When Roanoke firefighters told him about Squad 41, he called Gillespie and agreed to send most of the money on.

"I liked that idea better rather than sending it to the large fund," Anderson said.

"This is a little more personal."

Beckner was joined on the trip by Toby Bedwell and Mark Brown. They planned to have a party to hand out the toys.