Firefighters Give Back to Injured Veterans

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

VAIL, Colo., March 11, 2007 - Vail firefighters opened their house here yesterday evening for the fourth year in a row to thank the 25 participants of the Vail Veterans Program for their service to the nation. The firefighters treated the veterans and their guests to a homemade lasagna dinner.

"It's kind of a way for us to give back to our heroes and recognize ... what they've done for us," Vail Fire Chief John Gulick said. "They've made some supreme sacrifices."

Emergency workers feel a special kinship with servicemembers because of the work they do -- both groups work to protect lives, he said.

"We have a lot in common with them, except the kind of fire we take is just fires in buildings. It's not quite as intense as theirs," Gulick said. "Every time they go out it's a life and death situation.

"They are really strong," he said. "It's very special to have the men and women of the military here in Vail. They need to relax and realize that we really care about them."

The veterans, all either past or current patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, had spent the past four days participating in the Vail Veterans Program's winter sports clinic. They said they appreciated the firefighters' gesture and the chance to relax.

Army Sgt. Brian Fountaine, who lost both legs below the knee while serving in Iraq, said he especially feels the connection with the firefighters and appreciated the dinner. Three generations of his family were Boston firefighters.

"I think it's great," Fountaine said. "To me, smoke is in the blood. I think it's just really appropriate for (servicemembers) and firefighters and the police officers to share a common bond, not so much because of the experiences we go through but because of the jobs we do."

The group enjoyed their lasagna at linen-covered tables in the fire truck bays as a slide show of photos of the veterans and their guests skiing and snowboarding played. As dinner concluded, Cheryl Jenson, director of the Vail Veterans Program, and Army Maj. David Rozelle, administrator for Walter Reed's Amputee Care Center, drew names for door prizes.

Army Sgt. Anthony Larson, who lost his right leg below the knee in Iraq, agreed that the firefighters' efforts were special.

"I really thank them for putting this on for us and the support that they've given us through all of this," he said. "It's phenomenal, the support and gratitude, the hospitality that (the Vail community) put into everything that we've had here this week."

[Web Version:]