Photo credit: Michael Hnatov
Accession Number: C.2020.74.1
Dimensions: 47 in X 24 in X 43.5 in
Dimensions (Metric): 119.38 cm X 60.96 cm X 110.49 cm
Credit Line: Gift of Firefighter Rob Serra
DescriptionMotorized wheelchair manufactured by Golden Technologies with padded cushion, armrests, and headrest. A footrest is attached to the front of the chair. The bag attached to the back of the seat includes five embroidered patches: a memorial patch for Daniel Thomas Suhr, a small green patch with yellow embroidered text that reads: "In Memory of | Ray Pfeifer," an FDNY hockey team alumni patch, and two 9/11 commemorative patches. There is also a rubber patch with Velcro backing of a camouflage flag with the FDNY Maltese cross replacing the field of stars. Two additional embroidered patches are attached to the back of the headrest: an FDNY-MIA patch and a patch for the Ray Pfeifer Foundation. Two “New York City Fire Department Hockey Team” stickers are placed on either side of the chair.
Robert Serra was an FDNY probationary firefighter, having just completed the FDNY Academy on September 10th. He deployed to Ground Zero on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. Serra, who had never previously responded to any fire or other emergency, worked at Ground Zero overnight and returned home exhausted the next morning. Serra was subsequently detailed to Ladder 136 in the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens and continued to work during the rescue and recovery period at Ground Zero. Serra retired from the FDNY in December 2012 due to 9/11-related health problems; he suffered from breathing problems (including diminished lung capacity by October 2001), sinus infections, and sinus polyps.
Serra became involved with John Feal's FealGood Foundation to advocate for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act (2015) and the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act (2019). Serra went on organized trips to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress who did not support the proposed legislation. Serra acquired this wheelchair from indefatigable 9/11 health-care campaigner and fellow FDNY member Ray Pfeifer (1958-2017), who succumbed to stage 4 kidney cancer in late May 2017. By then, Serra’s own stamina and mobility had been compromised by his 9/11 health complications. Access to an electric-powered wheelchair enabled him to navigate the distances between lobbying appointments in the Senate and Congressional office buildings, with minimal travel time between meetings. Serra characterized the chair as having evolved into “part of the team” in its own right, as it became inseparable from Pfeifer’s empathetic advocacy presence— one which Serra was honored to perpetuate. The wheelchair’s association with Pfeifer is now recognized by a green patch affixed to the back of the seat that reads: “In Memory of Ray Pfeifer.”