In 2016, New York City firefighters were visited by a three-year-old boy. Although firefighters talk to kids all the time, this child was different. He had a lifelong love of firefighters, a dream to enter the field, and a tragic story. Learn about the boy who not only made a fire chief cry, but also befriended the squadron throughout his life.
The FDNY Has A Big Job
The New York City Fire Department, or FDNY, has over 10,000 uniformed firefighters. These firefighters respond to hundreds of thousands of incidents per year, around 25,000 fires and 225,000 non-fire emergencies. Many lives are lost trying to save others.
In 2016, the FDNY Captain was Jim Grismer. He had met and lost many fellow firefighters, and he talked to hundreds of young students every year. But nothing inspired him more than a mysterious boy from Maui.
A Normal Workday Became Unsual
In 2016, Grismer responded to a situation at the Ronald McDonald House. The Ronald McDonald House offers families a place to stay near hospitals, without hotel or food costs. Grismer’s team arrived at the building to put out a small kitchen fire.
Grismer knew that he would encounter kids there, and many children loved talking to firefighters. But nobody loved them more than the mysterious three-year-old boy who ran up to Grismer on the job.
Meeting The Mysterious Boy
As soon as Grismer exited his firetruck, he saw a young boy dressed in a tiny fireman uniform. The boy excitedly ran up to him as if they already knew each other.
“I see this little boy excitedly walking towards me with his eyes aglow,” Grismer recalled. “I opened my arms and he basically climbed up and hugged me around the neck. It was as if we’ve been friends/brothers for years.” But who was this child?
Who Was He?
After Grismer hugged the boy, a woman–his mother–approached him. She introduced herself as Shauna Dukes, and her son was Trucker Dukes. She said that Trucker loved firefighters more than anything in the world. And it was obvious.
“Every fire truck, [Trucker] thought it was for him,” Shauna said. “He would hear a siren, and his jaw would drop.” That is exactly what he did with Grismer’s team. When the kitchen fire was put out, Trucker and his mom spoke to the firemen.
A Love For Firefighting, Inherited
Trucker’s father, Joshua Dukes, was also a firefighter. When Grismer asked if he worked for the FDNY, Shauna said no. The family lived in Maui, but Shauna and Trucker were visiting New York.
Shauna said that, in Maui, she and Trucker “were at my husband’s fire station every Sunday. I think [Trucker] was just born a firefighter.” Because the pair were in New York, Trucker desperately wanted to meet some of the most famous firefighters in the United States.
Unfortunately, They Were Visiting For Cancer Treatment
Since the Dukes were staying at the Ronald McDonald house, Grismer assumed that Trucker was undergoing treatment. He was right. Trucker suffered from neuroblastoma.
Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that infects nerve cells. It usually forms in the embryo or fetus and develops in children. Instead of creating more nerve cells, the body creates cancer cells that grow out of control. Because the symptoms are similar to a fever, many children are not diagnosed until a later disease stage.
A Hard Life, A Young Kid
When Trucker was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2014, he was 19 months old. He had a tumor in his stomach that spread to 50% of his body. In November 2015, doctors found another tumor in Trucker, this time in his brain.
Fortunately, doctors at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City successfully removed the brain tumor. But his cancer was still at stage four. When Trucker met the FDNY, he was three years old and visiting the hospital again for treatment.
The Firefighters Wanted To Help
Grismer and his fellow firefighters were touched by Trucker’s story. It was clear that Trucker loved firefighters more than anything else in the world. When they met, Shauna assured Grismer that Trucker’s cancer was stable and “he feels really good.”
But Grismer still found himself crying as he embraced Trucker. At stage four, Trucker’s odd of surviving were low. After they left the Ronald McDonald House, the firefighters discussed what they could do to make Trucker’s stay special.
A Memorable Third Birthday Party
In April 2016, Trucker celebrated his third birthday. Although he was away from his brothers and father, he celebrated with his new family: the New York Fire Department.
The birthday parted was hosted by the FDNY Engine 22, Ladder 13, Battalion 10. Trucker took several photos with the firefighters that would be treasured for a lifetime. Shauna told the Captain, “It was like a scene from a movie when we met you.” For Trucker, it was a dream come true!
Soon, Trucker Was Like A Fellow Firefighter
The firefighters didn’t just help Trucker on his birthday. While the Dukes stayed at the Ronald McDonald House, firefighters brought them meals and gave them rides.
“They brought us meals at the hospital, they’ve given us rides in the firetrucks, [and] they’ve hosted us for holidays,” Shauna told TODAY. “They’ve been amazing.” Joshua Dukes, who took care of the other three children in Maui, heard all about his fellow firemen who were helping his child in New York.
It Wasn’t Just One Department, Either
Trucker did not just impact Grismer’s team. He also caught the attention of several other fire stations in New York. According to Shauna, the three-year-old screamed “Yeah, boys!” every time a firetruck drove by. The family also visited the fire stations frequently.
“Three firehouses on the Upper East Side now know Trucker,” his mother said. “[They] have standby mac and cheese in their lockers… We have these people that are now like our family that we wouldn’t have met otherwise.”
Sadly, Trucker Didn’t Have Much Longer
Although Trucker made a noticeable impact on the firefighters, he could not see them for much longer. Shauna told Grismer that they were planning to stop treatment and go back to Hawaii.
According to The Maui News, the chemical treatment took too much of a toll on Trucker. Instead of making him suffer during his final days, the Dukes wanted to bring him home to treat him nutritionally. Shauna wanted Trucker to spend more time with his three older brothers and father.
Doing Something That No Other Fireman Has Done
With the harrowing news, the FDNY debated over what to do. Before Trucker returned to Maui, they wanted to do something special for him. This would likely be the last time that he was in New York.
To honor him, the firefighters would do something that they had never done before: they would make Trucker a firefighter. Upon hearing this idea, New York Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro reached out to the Dukes to make it official.
At Age Three, Trucker Became A Firefighter
On May 31, 2016, Trucker’s entire family arrived in New York for a ceremony at the FDNY. He was officially sworn in as a firefighter. Trucker became a “Junior Firefighter,” which is an honor awarded to young struggling children, the FDNY told ABC News.
Not only did Trucker get an official firefighter badge, but his name was also put into the department’s register. He will be listed as a New York firefighter for the rest of history.
He Really Thought He Was A Fireman
This ceremony was an enormous honor for Trucker and his family. “This honor is so special to us because Trucker-Boy really thinks he’s a fireman,” Shauna said. “We are so blessed to have been adopted by the FDNY.”
Not only did the New York firefighters honor him, but international firefighters also sent supportive messages to the Dukes family. We’ve had unbelievable support from firefighters all across the world,” Shauna told ABC News. Trucker had a lasting impact on firefighters worldwide.
This Attention Gave The Dukes Worldwide Support
When Trucker became a New York fireman, his story was reported by CBS, Fox, NBC, and ABC News. Even athletes and celebrities were posted photos of Trucker. As his story spread, thousands of people wanted to know how they could support the Dukes family.
With this newfound support, Trucker’s future was looking bright. His family launched the Facebook Community page “Team Trucker – Trucker Dukes Supporters.” Their medical bills were adding up, and they needed all the support they could get.
Making Trucker’s Last Days Memorable
Over 48,000 people followed the “Team Trucker” page. On that page, the Dukes launched the #TruckerToughChallenge campaign. The program accepted donations to aid Trucker’s treatment and allow the family to enjoy their final moments with him.
“We were trying so hard to keep him alive, and the thing that was meant to help wasn’t letting him live,” the Dukes wrote on the Facebook page. As the family spent quality time together, they kept their fans updated on social media.
Making The Most Of Their Time Together
Since the Dukes family received monetary relief from kindhearted people, they could spend more quality time together. Trucker, his parents, and his three brothers traveled to Whistler, British Columbia, for a much-needed vacation.
There, Trucker learned how to snowboard, which was something that he always wanted to do. Because he no longer had harsh treatments, Trucker had enough energy to travel and enjoy life. With help from the community, the Dukes family formed lifelong memories together.
Sadly, Trucker Passed Away
Sadly, Trucker Dukes passed away on 10:10 am on March 3, 2017. He was a month shy of his fourth birthday. After he passed away in his mother’s arms, the Dukes family broke on the news on their community Facebook page.
“We are going to honor [Trucker] and live our lives as better dads, moms, siblings, husbands, wives and people of God,” the family wrote. “We love you little warrior. Run free in heaven with no pain, no tears, no suffering!!”
Immediately Immortalizing His Name
When the fire departments heard the news, they immediately worked to memorialize Trucker’s name. Both the Maui and New York Departments put Tucker’s name on their firetrucks. The Upper East department even put Trucker on their “riding list,” where they symbolically “rode” with him on their truck.
“Trucker’s passing has been the hardest experience you can imagine,” Shauna said. “Now, we get to celebrate his extraordinary life.” Because of this, death was not the end of Trucker Dukes’s journey.
A Funeral For A Fireman
Trucker Dukes’s funeral honored his love of firefighting. He was transported to the mortuary on a firetruck. Plus, 23 New York firefighters flew out to Maui to attend his funeral. Many of them were firefighters that Trucker met during his 2016 visit.
Trucker’s headstone portrays him in his fireman uniform wearing the official badge. He is labeled as the “Little Hawaiian Warrior Legend.” After the Dukes posted this headstone to Facebook, thousands of people from around the world also mourned his passing.
For The First Time, A Non-Firefighter Got A Plaque
Meanwhile, in New York, the FDNY was planning something special. The firemen were making a plaque to memorialize the fallen firefighter: Trucker Dukes. In fact, the department was making multiple plaques that would hang in stations around New York City.
“I have never been to a plaque dedication for a non-firefighter,” said Michael Gala, the Chief of the Manhattan unit of the FDNY. “That has to let you know how special that little boy was, that he will be memorialized in this firehouse for eternity.”
He Got The Same Treatment As Other Firefighters
Trucker Dukes’s memorial will hang alongside other firefighters. Two are Robert Curatolo and Raymond Murphy, firemen who saved many lives during 9/11. Another is Lieutenant James Moran, Jr., who passed away fighting fires in 2000.
“We take it upon ourselves as our responsibility, as our duty, to honor our fallen,” said Firefighter Francisco Ruiz, whom Trucker called “Uncle Cisco.” “It’s also our duty to take care of their families.” Because of that, the firefighters gave the Dukes a royal treatment.
Trucker’s Dedication Ceremony
In March 2018, the New York Fire Department held a ceremony to commemorate Tucker Dukes. By that time, it had been one year since Trucker’s death. The firemen reached into their own pockets to pay for the Dukes’s plane tickets.
Trucker’s parents flew to Manhattan and attended the ceremony at the firehouse on 67th Street. There, the firefighters unveiled the plaques and gave another service for Trucker. The initial plaque that they revealed will hang inside of the fire station.
Although Small, Trucker Left Large Footprints
As expected, Trucker’s parents are saddened by the loss of their son. By they also hold hope. “There’s always gonna be that heaviness, that weight that we carry,” his father, Joshua Dukes, said. “But it also brings to mind just sense of community, the sense of love and friendship that we have, how blessed we are.”
Joshua knew that Trucker is what brought the Dukes and other firefighters together. “He left really big footprints on this planet, even though he only had size 6 fire boots. I’m grateful for it.”
The Dukes Are Spreading His Memory
After Trucker’s death, the Dukes made their own plans to commemorate him. “We are calling it our ‘Trucker Rides With Us’ family adventure,” Shauna Dukes said. “We want to bless others and continue to tell Trucker’s story as a part of his legacy.”
The Dukes plan to travel across North America in an RV. During their trip, they will perform random acts of kindness on behalf of Trucker. They will document their journey on Trucker’s Facebook page.
Spreading Awareness Of Cancer
Along with performing kind acts, the Dukes work to raise awareness of pediatric cancer. They use the news reports and their popular Facebook page to aid other children in a similar position to Trucker.
“I don’t know what the future looks like for us,” Shauna told The Maui News, “but I’ll never stop raising awareness. Hopefully, one day there’s something less toxic and not as harsh for someone else’s baby.” The family donates money to cancer treatments for children.