Fireman Joe's Harley products help memorialize fallen 9/11 firefighters PDF | Print | E-mail

MICHAEL RIGERT - North County Staff
Three years ago an Orem fire captain combined two of his passions -- the firefighters' brotherhood and Harley-Davidson motorcycles -- to help firefighters around the world remember their fallen 9/11 comrades.

In the wake of the harrowing terror attacks on New York City in 2001, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company unveiled a special edition motorcycle available only to firefighters, said Capt. Joseph McRae, a 25-year veteran of the Orem Fire Department.

He remembers looking at a photo of the new motorcycle on the kitchen table of his Highland home and his wife asking him if he was going to order the limited edition bike.

"Heavens, no," he told her. "I can't afford it."

McRae said his wife continued to hound him about purchasing the firefighter edition of the Harley-Davidson, telling him if he didn't put down the $1,000 to get the bike, she would. Despite his excitement in getting the bike months later, McRae said only the red color differentiated the bike from other Harleys.

"At that point I was a little disappointed," he said. "Nothing on the motorcycle said it was a (firefighter) special edition."

Putting his creative genius to work, McRae designed a distinct emblem that would set the motorcycle apart from others and made an order for 300 of the accessories. Leery about what he was going to do with all the emblems, McRae started a Web site called "Fireman Joe's" at

Three years later, the business averages $12,000 a month in sales and features a host of accessories to spruce up the Firefighter Special Edition Harley-Davidson. Owners of the bike can purchase everything from dash inserts engraved with the names of all the firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11 to a special fire helmet road bell to ward off road demons.

Of all the products available, McRae personally designed 28 of them.

"If you've never owned a Harley, it's hard to explain," he said of the cult following and kinship among Harley-Davidson owners. "You take all the history and the nostalgia, it's a bonding thing."

Combining Harley-Davidson fans with firefighters, who McRae said are an especially tight-knit fraternity, and you get quite an impassioned following for the special bikes.

When the famed motorcycle company recently celebrated its 100th anniversary in Milwaukee, Wis., McRae said he and other friends attending were welcomed with open arms by local firefighters.

"We stayed at Fire House No. 25 in Milwaukee," he said. "They rolled out the red carpet for us. It wasn't because of Fireman Joe's. It was 'cause I was a brother firefighter."

Dan Langston, an American Fork airbrush artist, has teamed with McRae to provide custom paint services,, for Firefighter Special Edition owners. Langston takes firefighters' feelings and thoughts and translates them to works of art on the bikes' panels, with everything from images of realistic flames, crying eagles and the Twin Towers to elaborate murals.

He's turned around 16 to 18 custom paint jobs for McRae's customers, ranging in price from $1,700 to $7,500.

"A lot of my clients don't necessarily feel as personal about a new paint scheme as firefighters. For them it's their life," Langston said. "When they get it back, they're the most excited. ... It's crying, it's real emotional for them."

McRae, who said his is the only business manufacturing after-market parts for the Firefighter Harley-Davidson, estimates his Web site gets 150 hits a day, and of those, 8 to 10 percent translate into sales. He's had firefighters from around the world, including in Europe, Australia and Canada, buy his adornments.

Though McRae is planning to branch out and provide accessories for all Harley-Davidson owners, he says Fireman Joe's began as a hobby and remains a labor of love.

Many of McRae's customers are New York City firefighters who survived the catastrophe or who had close colleagues lose their lives. One customer was trapped in a stairwell during the collapse of one of the towers and prayed that if he was to survive, he would dedicate his life to doing good. Today that firefighter provides donated fire equipment and training to firefighters in Third World countries.

"Lots of parts I make aren't just parts. It's an emotional thing because of 9/11," he said. "This isn't a business, it's a passion."