New York comes to Steamboat
Firefighters, police officers get mountain retreat
One’s hometown meant little to the public servants who gathered Sunday evening at Olympian Hall.
About 75 New York City firefighters, policemen and their families mingled with firefighters and policemen from Steamboat Springs.
Steamboat Springs and New York City might be two very different places, said retired New York firefighter Frank Santiago, but the men who serve the public in either place serve for the same reasons.
“It’s a brotherhood,” Santiago said.
Local Kiwanis, Optimist, Rotary and Lions clubs sponsored the dinner to welcome the visitors from New York City.
Steamboat Springs eighth-grader Hallie van Straaten conceived the idea of bringing New York firefighters and policemen to Steamboat Springs not long after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
During a visit to the Engine 3, Ladder 12 fire company, van Staaten heard from one firefighter that Steamboat was the only Colorado ski resort he had never visited.
His comment prompted van Straaten to begin a six-month project that would give more than one firefighter the chance to experience Steamboat Springs.
Charlie Biondo, the firefighter whose comment inspired van Straaten’s project, flew in to Yampa Valley Regional Airport early Sunday afternoon.
He arrived in time to see the face of one pleased teenager.
“Hallie’s face would have lit Times Square,” he said.
When people at different firehouses around New York heard a 13-year-old girl was the force behind the idea, they didn’t really know what to think, Biondo said.
But their first impressions of the people and the area already had them looking forward to the next seven days, he added.
“Everyone has just been so hospitable,” Biondo said.
The New York City firefighers and policemen plan to spend some time at local fire stations and police headquarters.
The men and women who protect the public in the arenas of law enforcement and fire protection share something that can only be explained by those in the profession, Biondo said.
“It’s a common bond,” he said. “It’s the best job in the world.”
That bond knows no border or background, he added.
The New York firefighters and policemen will meet with local schoolchildren to share some of their experiences from Sept. 11.
It’s an opportunity for area youngsters to hear their stories in person, said firefighter Michael Boland.
Firefighter Ed Fealy expects some pointed questions from some of Steamboat’s youngest residents.
He already knows what he will tell children who ask him why anyone would remain in a profession that took such a heavy blow from the terrorist attacks.
“Every guy in here is a happy guy,” he said.
If New York City suffered a similar catastrophe, he and his colleagues wouldn’t think twice about responding to the call, Fealy said.
If another plane hit another tall building, he said, New York’s firefighters and police would do their duty without hesitation.
“We would still go in and try again,” he said.
The trip to Colorado gives firefighters and policemen an opportunity to temporarily leave behind the sadness they’ve encountered in the last six months, Fealy said.
“It’s a nice break,” he said.
Most of the New Yorkers intend to spend some of their break skiing.
Those who missed out on the slopes Sunday afternoon planned to strap on their skis and snowboards today.
The Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. gave the men and their families a week of free lift tickets and half-price ski lessons and rentals.
The visitors from New York expect to return home next week with new stories about the friends they made.
“You already feel like you are at home,” said firefighter Brian Lustenring.
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