by Mark Treske
The one word on the back of the T-Shirts worn by many at the gathering said it all: “Brotherhood.” For 40 years the Freeport Fire Department has joined together with the “Freiwillige Feuerwehr” (volunteer fire department) of Freeport’s sister city, Walldorf, Germany.
Or to quote Don Rowan, co-chairman of the planning committee, “We look out for one another.” The exchange has grown to be an island-wide affair: Fire Departments from Baldwin, Merrick, North Merrick, North Bellmore, Lindenhurst, North Lindenhurst, Hauppague and Point Lookout-Lido also took part this year.
42 Walldorfers, the most in the history of the exchange, have been guests of the FFD since September 16, and on September 25 the American and German firefighters gathered at Truck Company firehouse on Church Street for a farewell dinner, with the Germans cooking a very enjoyable meal and more than a few beers consumed.
Walldorf is located in the German state of Baden-Wurttemburg, south of Heidelberg and near the confluence of the Rhein and Neckar Rivers. Mr. Rowan says that in the past Freeport went to Germany in the fall for a Walldorf Fall Festival (where they cooked chilli to raise money for local charities.) Walldorf often comes here in the spring, for the FFD installation of officers. Mr. Rowan noted that the trips are paid for privately; no village funds are spent on them.
One of the highlights of the visit was the two departments marching in the Steuben Day parade in Manhattan on September 21. But Walldorf also got to play tourist for part of the trip, which started in New Hampshire and included visits to Mt. Washington and Lake Winnipesaukee.
The two departments also participated in training exercises, including an event staged by the Lindenhurst Fire Department. History was not forgotten: Of particular significance was a trip to the new 9-11 museum at Ground Zero (Walldorf has raised money to support families of firefighters lost on 9-11, as well as victims of superstorm Sandy). Trips to the PBA 9-11 memorial and the Nassau County Firefighters Museum were also arranged.
The Wednesday night event was a last chance to enjoy an evening of fellowship (interrupted by one fire alarm: someone got locked in a room at the Rec Center). In the presence of dignitaries including Mayor Robert Kennedy, Trustee Bill White and Chief of Police Miguel Bermudez, gifts were exchanged and firefighters from both sides of the Atlantic praised the benefits of the exchange and all of the people who made it happen.
Jurek Dudler, liaison between the FFD and Walldorf, spoke of what was needed for such a visit: “We can only imagine how many hours, meetings, calls and e-mails were necessary to set up this program...I think I speak for everybody in this room: This trip has been special different and definitely unforgettable and its still special! The committee and everybody involved did a tremendous job!”
His colleague Maximilian Bowitz spoke the ties of fellowship resulting from the exchange: A friendship...has lasted over decades, has grown and spread over the ocean, has included other towns, now even over generations...hundreds of Germans and Americans have visited back and forth. A friendship has developed that covers not only men and women, but also cities as a whole. This, we believe, is domething special and unique.”