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Firefighter Memorial Transport: A personal mission to honor the fallen

Creating a homegoing experience for fallen firefighters, police officers and veterans


Photo/Firefighter Memorial Transport


Photo/Courtesy of Pizzarro

Some people look forward to retirement as a time when they can relax, maybe play a little golf.

Frank Pizarro is not one of those people.

Pizarro was hired by the FDNY in 1998 after serving with the Navy in Iraq. He was on the scene at the World Trade Center in 2001 when the first tower collapsed, and narrowly missed being inside Tower 7 when it collapsed later that day. He spent five months searching for the remains of his fellow firefighters at Ground Zero.

Like so many others who worked the pile, Pizarro suffered health consequences that led to his early retirement in 2017. He moved to Las Vegas with his wife and started a new life in the West.

But Frank Pizarro wasn’t done with the fire service. His sense of personal mission led him to start a foundation, Firefighter Memorial Transport, to honor fallen firefighters.

Apparatus assists in homegoing traditions

It all began with the acquisition of a retired fire truck that he had retrofitted with a lift and insignias that dedicate it to the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11. “What we do is carry the remains of fallen heroes in procession in lieu of a hearse,” Pizarro explained. “They actually have a vehicle that they would have operated in to carry their caskets.” He has since expanded the foundation’s work to similarly honor veterans and police officers, including a Humvee and trailer among other vehicles modified for this purpose.

The foundation’s mission is not limited to assisting with funerals: “We also provide financial help to the families. We give scholarships to their children. We do community events like coat drives and food drives,” Pizarro detailed. He added that the foundation aspires to have a permanent location that would allow for training, an on-site museum, community space and an honor garden.

The foundation currently operates locally in southern Nevada where the fleet of vehicles is located, but, Pizarro stated, “The goal is to get more vehicles in more locations around the United States.” He stays in touch with fire departments and veterans’ organizations to prepare for this expansion.

There are challenges with moving ahead. “The first two years I started, COVID was in the mix. So it was kind of dormant for two years,” Pizarro explained. He also commented on the challenges related to funding. “Unfortunately, people’s priorities are different. They may have no problem spending $5,000 for a Taylor Swift ticket, but it hurts them to pay $50 to give a homegoing to someone who has risked their life.”

The most recent vehicle retrofit is the one that specifically honors veterans, and Pizarro expects it could be used as often as five or six days per week. The fire truck and police vehicle are used less often, perhaps a few times per month.

Pizarro describes himself as a “hands on kind of guy,” and thus he is involved in every aspect of the organization, including driving vehicles at ceremonies and services. He also trains others to fill these roles. All those who work with the foundation are volunteers, and board members include Pizarro’s wife as well as a fellow veteran who served with him in Iraq. Funding comes strictly through donations.

Healing through helping others

Pizarro shared that he has “good days and bad days” with his health and noted that PTSD is “another thing I have to deal with.” But he is determined to keep moving forward. “It’s actually healing to serve others in this way,” he shared. “It’s therapeutic.” And he recognizes that the foundation is also healing for the families it serves: “It lets them know that their loved one’s service meant something. It’s for their legacy and for their kids and their families. And it’s also for the city and the community. They say, wow, this must be somebody. And that is what’s important to me, for them to have that.”

Pizarro hopes to bring awareness of what the foundation is doing to all 50 states, and even internationally, in order to expand its mission and outreach. There is much work ahead. But as Pizarro commented, “I do it for the smiles and the hugs and the thank yous. That makes it all worth it for me.”

Video: Honoring the fallen with a Firefighter Memorial Transport

Take your department in the direction you want. Get expert advice on how to effectively lead your fire department. 20-year veteran Linda Willing writes “Leading the Team,” a FireRescue1 column about fire department leadership.