After FDNY firefighter Ray Pfeifer was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer linked to his time at Ground Zero, his family chipped in and bought him a vintage firetruck. Pfeifer died in 2017 but the rig continues his legacy. Newsday's Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware; AP; Photo Credit: Steve Pfost; James Carbone; John Conrad Williams Jr; Pfeifer Family/Chris Ware; AP; Photo Credit: Steve Pfost; James Carbone; John Conrad Williams Jr; Pfeifer Family

When parked at the East Meadow Fire Headquarters, it’s just a truck.

But when the red 1946 Dodge firetruck hits the road in neighborhoods, events and celebrations across Long Island, it’s "Ray’s Rig."

The vintage truck has long stopped being used to fight fires, but it was given a new purpose. Whether a parade, block party or wedding, it’s a vehicle that brings joy to others — the way its former owner, retired FDNY firefighter Ray Pfeifer, would have wanted.

"It’s used for so many wonderful things as well as some very sad occasions — for people losing their loved ones to 9/11 cancer," Pfeifer’s sister, Maryellen Pfeifer McKee, 62, said. "That’s what Ray wanted as well — to have this be used."

Ray, from Levittown, fought a yearslong battle with cancer linked to his work at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks. The 27-year veteran spent about eight months helping to dig through the pile of toxic debris to locate victims buried under what was left from the collapsed buildings.

In 2009, when he was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer, Ray’s siblings said he told them he wanted a firetruck as a hearse.

"He wanted to go out on an old-fashioned firetruck," McKee said.

His brother Joe Pfeifer, 53, of East Islip, was determined to make it happen, McKee said. He wanted Ray to have the truck as "something for him to work on … through his chemo or whatever was going to happen coming up with this cancer."

By the end of 2009, the family located the firetruck in Maryland and bought it for $4,200. Ray received the gift in January 2010 and took the truck, a stick shift, out for a spin.

As people heard about Ray’s plans to repair the firetruck, donations came in. Upgrades such as a $15,000 paint job, a nozzle and a bell were some of the upgrades supporters gifted.

"It’s built on a lot of love," said Ray’s sister Noreen Pfeifer, 59.

When he wasn’t working on his truck, he was lobbying Congress on behalf of his fellow first responders.

Ray made more than a dozen trips to Washington, D.C., to persuade lawmakers to fund health care for fellow first responders by passing the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act, named to honor an NYPD officer who died of respiratory disease contracted at Ground Zero.

When Ray died in 2017 from cancer, "Ray’s Rig" carried him to his final resting place. It has since been used for funerals of other fallen firefighters. Ray’s siblings savor the moments a call is made to use "Ray’s Rig."

Joe Pfeifer said the firetruck is available for "whoever needs it."

And that includes family.

Joe said he used the truck as a limousine for his wedding. Ray’s son, Terence Pfeifer, an FDNY firefighter, also made "Ray’s Rig" part of his wedding, he said.

Joe Pfeifer believes the firetruck will last beyond the family’s lifetime.

"I’ll probably donate [the firetruck] to the firehouse so they can keep it going," he said. "I don’t see this getting put on a rack anywhere and not getting used anymore."

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