On August 3, the Mineola Fire Department welcomed twenty junior members of the Hamburg-Stellinger Fire Department from Germany to ten days of sightseeing, training and fun as part of an ongoing exchange program.
"We picked them up from the airport in fire trucks," said former Mineola fire department chief Gary Mazur, who helps run Mineola's junior program with advisor Bill Gresalfi. "They were so excited to see Mineola."
The exchange program grew from a simple cordial gesture Gresalfi made by signing the online guestbooks of fire departments from around the world in July, 2005.
The unprecedented partnership between a North American and European junior fire department program has been commended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a partnership which has shaped young ambassadors and strengthened ties with other nations.
This year, supporters of the partnership arranged for members of both junior divisions to visit historical and cultural sites in Washington, DC, New York City and Long Island.
"We did everything you could have possibly done in two days in Washington, DC," Mazur said. The group also had a personal tour of Ground Zero and nearby FDNY Ladder and Engine Company 10.
Long Island sights included Teddy Roosevelt's house, the Nassau County Firefighters Museum and the Cradle of Aviation. Department members also spent a night watching the firefighting drill practices in Tully Park, a picnic on Tobay Beach and a barbeque in Southold. Participators in the junior departments also underwent grueling training on August 8 at the Nassau County Fire Service Academy in Old Bethpage.
The fifty combined junior members were also treated to dinner at Bairrada Restaurant. "They are very generous supporters," Mazur said of owners Manny and Roy Carvalho.
Mineola's junior firefighters made the trip across the Atlantic in 2008, training and touring sites like the Berlin Wall. They will send another crew in 2011.
The impacts of the partnership between the Mineola and Hamburg-Stellinger Fire Departments are enormous. "They host a Fourth of July party every year at their fire house and send us videos and pictures online for Christmas," said Mazur.
In 2009 the Hamburg-Stellinger Fire Department sent a refurbished Mercedes fire cab to the Mineola Fire Department as a gift, which was used for fire safety and community programs. Now at the Cradle of Aviation, the truck remains the only foreign equipment on display.
As part of its partnership, the Mineola fire department frequently sends care packages to Germany - including Skittles and Rice Krispy Treats - two indulgences that the German kids love but can't buy in their country.
"On their last night here, we had a big going away party," Mazur said of the German youths. "The ex-chiefs, mayor and local politicians all showed up. We exchanged caps with [the Germans]. The kids had a ball." The next morning, the German youths were treated to a large sendoff as neighboring departments placed their engines along Jericho Turnpike, blaring their horns and flashing their lights.
Individuals between the ages of 14 and 17 may come with a parent to the Mineola fire department on Monday nights to join.