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Firefighters, police get pats on back



Published: Thu, November 22, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Police officers and firefighters say the community has been showing more appreciation since Sept. 11.

By JoANNE VIVIANO

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

As families gather around their Thanksgiving tables this year, they may find themselves giving thanks for a group of civil servants that were overlooked in the past.

In the past two months, American citizens around the globe have discovered a newfound respect for police officers, firefighters and emergency workers.

"It's like you're part of New York City now. It's like you're one of the heroes," said Sgt. Joe O'Grady of the Warren Police Department. "I think people realize now at any time something could happen to us on our jobs, and I know they appreciate us a great deal more."

Austintown firefighter Tim Heitzer said residents have brought baked goods, lapel buttons and American flags to the department as a sign of appreciation. One man gave produce.

Saying thanks: "People come up and thank us for what we do on a daily basis," Heitzer said. "It just seems like we get a whole lot of respect now. People appreciate us."

As people pass fire engines, they blow their horns and wave.

"People say to us, 'Now I understand what it means when they say, you are running in when we are running out,'" Heitzer said.

Canfield Police Sgt. Robert D. Magnuson said he was recently in Columbus, on break during a seminar, when three people, seeing his badge, stopped to say thank you.

"Ever since then [Sept. 11], if I'm in uniform or have a badge on my belt, perfect strangers will stop and make some kind of comment, they'll say thanks," he said.

Lt. Felipe Romain, of the Warren City Fire Department, said he receives thanks when he is at church, shopping downtown or through phone calls at home.

Youth at Blessed Sacrament Church had a service in honor of emergency workers and sent gift baskets to local departments. Youngsters have written letters of thanks.

'Warm feeling': "I don't know how many times I've walked in public and people have said thank you so much for doing this job," Romain added. "It's a very warm feeling, and we're very grateful. There's a sense of pride and respect for us."

Patrolman David Talbert of the Salem Police Department said it is a welcome change to see police officers and firefighters in a positive light in the media, after negative press police recently have received after incidents in Cleveland and Cincinnati.

"There's more of a sense of appreciation," Talbert said, referring to local response to the Salem department. "I think they realize more the sacrifices our forces make. I think Sept. 11 probably brought it to light."

Milton Township Fire Chief Rick Pellin Jr. also does emergency medical work at Pellin Ambulance Service Inc. He said he saw increased help during a recent building fire in the township.

"Generally we've had a lot of folks come up to us," he said. "A lot of people would help out more than you would ordinarily find."

Rescue personnel said they, too, see a change in themselves since the tragedy.

"You did sit back and kind of wonder because that could happen to anybody," said Canfield Police Sgt. Cristobal Ruiz, who saw ground zero when he visited New York to deliver donations and visit family there. "You think about that and the potential for it to happen in your community."

More stress: Romain said his guard -- and his stress level -- is higher as firefighters around the country must respond to anthrax scares and keep a watchful eye on nuclear power plants and water treatment facilities.

"A lot of our men feel very deeply for the bravery of our brothers in New York. They knew when they were walking into that building they were walking into a hell," Romain said. "Our hearts go out to them knowing, had it been our department or our area, we would have answered that alarm the same way."

viviano@vindy.com




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