by Amanda Farinacci
It started with a simple wish to learn to ride a motorcycle, and when tragedy claimed the life of one of New York's Bravest, one of his brothers decided to help make his dream come true. NY1's Amanda Farinacci has the story.
One 750 Honda motorcycle may look like a beauty now, but it wasn't always so appealing.
When fallen firefighter Gerard Baptiste told his brothers at Engine 33/Ladder 9 on the Lower East Side he wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle, retired Firefighter Michael Wernick, who runs a motorcycle business on the side, told him he'd come along to check out a good first bike.
“We went to look at this particular motorcycle, and it was ratty, rusted, old, it wouldn't start it was the most derelict motorcycle you could possibly imagine,” says Wenick. “So when I went to see it I said, ‘Gerard, this is not your first bike. Get a bike that at least runs so you could learn on it.’”
Gerard ignored the advice and weeks later showed up at the firehouse with the bike. He planned to restore it himself.
“He goes, ‘I have a feeling for this bike.’ I go, ‘What are you talking about?’” says Wernick. “He goes, ‘You see this? It's your basic motorcycle - it's not the rockets they have today, it's not the cruisers. I am going to fix that bike up. This is what I am going to do.”
Gerard never had that chance. He was killed just two weeks later in the collapse of the World Trade Center.
The bike sat in the firehouse until one of Wernick's friends from the motorcycle industry visited and decided to restore it in honor of Gerard. It took about a year and a half to get it up and running. The parts and labor were donated.
It is now valued between $10,000 and $20,000 - far more than the $100 he shelled out for it.
“[The] 343 members of the Fire Department that passed away - I am sure there's 343 dreams,” says Wernick. “This is just one dream; one man.”
The bike includes Gerard's badge number, as well as a drawing by Firefighter Kevin Duffy symbolizing the 10 lost members of the company. There is an eagle - just like the one on their helmets - and an emblem of the FDNY as well.
The bike will be raffled off to raise money, and it will keep Gerard's memory alive as the Fire Department continues to move forward.
“There's a lot of personalities that don't know Gerard, us, the motorcycle, or what happened, and that's good in some ways because you have new energy, new blood,” says Wernick. “But I think there's this component of short-term memory, and people sort of let it slide into the past unless you're directly affected by it a family member, a fireman. I'm retired now, so my life is going on, so I think the mood is swinging to more upbeat optimism.”
Money raised from the raffle will go to the Engine 33/Ladder 9 Children's Scholarship Fund, and the winner will be drawn on the third anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.