Firefighters, police still heroes

Public better understands workers' roles, local fireman says

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— Steamboat Springs firefighters Matt Mathisen and Chuck Cerasoli don't do their jobs any differently than they did a year ago.

But Sept. 11 has changed the public's perception of their jobs, they said.

Americans embraced firefighters, policemen and other emergency responders like never before in response to the heroism and sacrifice shown by New York City's emergency personnel in the wake of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

That appreciation has been extended to firefighters and police officers around the country.

The response from the Steamboat community was overwhelming in the weeks following Sept. 11, Cerasoli said. Residents took many opportunities to offer their thanks. Schoolchildren held flag ceremonies, mothers baked cookies and passersby nodded in respect.

"People better understand what we do now," Mathisen said.

When New York City firefighters and police visited Steamboat Springs last April, the city gave them a hero's welcome.

"It was like having family members here," Fire Chief Bob Struble said.

People who work in public safety roles often share a bond that transcends city or state, he said. Steamboat's law enforcement and fire departments depend on that connection.

"We're already a tight unit," police officer Pua Utu said. "We do a lot of counting on each other."

Steamboat Springs firefighters and police will raise an American flag for their absent brothers today.

The 2 p.m. flag-raising ceremony in front of the Steamboat Police Services building is a respectful nod to fallen New York City firefighters and police. Attendance is not mandatory, but many police and firefighters plan to take their place around the new flagpole.

The loss of so many people struck a chord with those who wear the same badges 2,000 miles away.

"In an emergency, police and firefighters are going to respond," Assistant Police Chief Art Fiebing said. "When everyone is running one way, we run the other way."

Firefighters and police agree the initial outpouring of thanks has fallen off some, but they don't mind. "I don't think we expect a lot of kudos," Fiebing said.

Firefighters and police have a full schedule of appearances today. But it's still business as usual for the men and women who safeguard the Steamboat community's safety.

"We're here to uphold the law, and we do that day in and day out," police officer Nick Bosick said.

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