PEEKSKILL -- Deputy Fire Chief Jim Howard remembers serving on the city fire patrol with Sam Oitice, one of the hundreds of emergency responders killed in the Sept. 11 attack on New York. Oitice, a longtime Peekskill resident, was a member of the New York Fire Department but he started out as a city ambulance corps member and later became a Peekskill police officer.
When he got called for his dream job with the FDNY, he left the Peekskill Police but served as a volunteer fireman.
"He brought a lot to the table because he was on the cutting edge of technology and latest techniques of the greatest fire department in the world, so he brought that back to us," Howard said. "Even today there are feelings that he kept us on the right track for a long time with the things he implemented."
Howard said Peekskill's firemen had all grown close to not just Oitice but his buddies down in Engine 54 and Ladder 4 located at 48th and 8th Street in Manhattan. And then Sept. 11 happened. Oitice, 45 was among those killed, leaving behind his wife Jean and two children.
"When he and all 15 of his buddies were murdered that day - I know that's a strong word but that's how we feel about it - we knew we had to do something," Howard said. The Sam Oitice Heroes Remembered Memorial, which sits between the train station and the Hudson River in Riverfront Green Park, was unveiled in July of 2010 after years of planning and fundraising.
The bronze statue features an anonymous firefighter kneeling in front of Oitice's fire suit and helmet. The names of the all the emergency responders who perished on Sept. 11 2001 are listed on plaques around the monument. The monument also features a bell that was rung following the deaths of seven city firemen in the 1918 Fleishman's yeast factory fire.
"Back then that was like Peekskill's own 9/11, it was quite a tragedy," Howard said.
The memorial was paid for through state grants, private donations and numerous fundraisers by the memorial committee. While the memorial has been paid for, the committee is still looking to make some finishing touches.
"We'd like to add some benches, we'd like to do some uplighting on the pieces, just a few little odds and ends to finish it," Howard said.
The committee has several fundraisers planned in the coming months, with the closest being the concert by renowned Irish Tenor Ronan Tynan at the Paramount Center for the Arts on Sept. 25. Tickets are available at the Paramount box office and online at www.paramountcenter.org Howard said.
Oitice and his wife were very active in the community "They were so into children in this town," Howard said. "They established the first roller hockey team here and they would spend an ungodly amount of time getting the courts ready, refereeing, setting schedules. Just the two of them."
Oitice also took the time every year to visit every elementary school classroom in the city to teach fire safety. Howard said just recently a young woman with children of her own mentioned that she remembered Oitice coming to her class to talk about fire safety, which she now imparts on her kids. "So he's still with us, kind of, because of the words and the deeds that he undertook when he was with us," Howard said.