Ceremony honors heroes

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— In a moving ceremony Wednesday morning, four New York City firefighters raised the American flag at a memorial between Strawberry Park Elementary and Steamboat Springs Middle schools.

"It's really touching," said Ariel Tredway, a sixth-grader. "(The New York firefighters) taught us to live through this."

Firefighters and policemen from both New York City and Steamboat Springs participated in the dedication of the Living Memorial, which was developed by students as a way to honor those who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks on the U.S. and those who continue to serve America.

Tredway said the reality of Sept. 11 hit home for her and her fellow other students who got the chance to talk to the visitors from New York City who got an all-too-close view of the carnage from the terrorist attacks.

"I've learned they've seen their really good friends die," she said.

But even though their stories are sometimes sad, Tredway said the firefighters and policemen were a joy to be around.

"They're really nice. I like their accents," she said.

Tredway is on the student council, which helped develop the idea of the living memorial. The living memorial consists of two tall trees that represent the twin towers, a 12-foot by 16-foot American flag and a park bench.

Tim Bishop, middle school principal, said each student would lay a brick creating a path to the memorial.

"When you place your brick, reflect on the spirit of selflessness," he said. Bishop said the kindness and generosity witnessed in the weeks after Sept. 11, predictably has begun to dwindle.

But the memorial, he said, would be a reminder to students and others to do their best.

"When you pass the Living

Memorial, ask yourself 'what am I going to do today to make a positive impact on someone's life?'" he said.

Bringing the firefighters and police to Steamboat Springs started with eighth grader Hallie van Straaten.

More than 50 local individuals, businesses and organizations donated lodging, meals and other amenities to help bring the 75 firefighters, police and their families here.

Van Straaten said she wanted people to see that only one person with a dream could make anything possible.

She received a hug from the New York firefighters for her efforts and ability to get widespread community involvement.

Angela Palaniuk, a seventh-grader, said van Straaten has united the school behind the effort. "Everyone's hearts got bigger," she said.

The visitors were grateful for their welcome to the Yampa Valley.

"It's been fantastic," said Charles Biondo, a New York City firefighter. "The students are more aware of what New York is about."

He said meeting the local firefighters was a pleasure.

Robert Ryan of Engine 15 in New York City lost family in the terrorist attacks and said his heart goes out to all the children who lost their parents.

He said it is really tough for him, something he doesn't really like to talk about.

The opportunity for the New York firefighters to get a break was one of the greatest gifts anyone could give.

"They have a lot of stories to tell but they're more just here for relaxation and having a good time," said Matt Mathisen, a Steamboat Springs firefighter. "This is nice. It brings everyone here in town closer together," he said.

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