Community toasts first responders

In the middle of Old Greenwich’s annual “First Light” celebration of the holiday season on Saturday night, Jeffrey Bischoff made sure that time was taken to salute people who had recently done so much for the community by leading a toast and an “old school hip hip hooray” to the town’s first responders.

The gesture was done in response to the efforts of Greenwich’s first responders during Hurricane Sandy. While the town was spared the heavy destruction that hit other areas, town first responders still battled the storm and the Greenwich Fire Department is being credited with saving perhaps a whole stretch of homes by fighting a late night fire at the peak of the storm during high tide.

And the toast and cheer were only parts of the salute, which was capped off by First Selectman Peter Tesei declaring Dec. 1 First Responders Day in Greenwich, a tradition Mr. Bischoff, who organized the salute, told the Post he hoped would become a town tradition with a toast every year at First Light.

“These good folks here have decided to take a moment to say thanks to those who helped all of us during the most epic storm of the century, Hurricane Sandy,” Mr. Tesei said. “You in Old Greenwich were the epicenter of this particular storm, as you know all too well, and tonight these good folks are giving thanks.”

In his formal proclamation, Mr. Tesei praised the performance of the “dedicated professionals and volunteers” in the fire, police and emergency medical services in town and noted they continually “serve our community 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

“Hurricane Sandy has caused Greenwich to reflect on the American values that underlie volunteerism, collaboration and extraordinary acts of heroism by ordinary men and women who choose to place their lives in jeopardy to save others,” Mr. Tesei said. “Greenwich first responders combined their efforts with neighboring first responders to prepare and protect all Greenwich citizens before, during and after Hurricane Sandy.”

The First Light was sponsored by the Old Greenwich Merchants Association and was packed with people all along the main business district of Sound Beach Avenue, which was closed to vehicles to allow for pedestrians to wander in and out of stores and restaurants and interact in the streets with the holiday spirit. There was even a horse-drawn carriage there to take people around the area, an annual attraction that has proven to be quite popular.

“This is the place to be for sure tonight,” Mr. Tesei said in thanking everyone who had put together the event.

But it was the salute to the first responders that drew some of the loudest cheers of the night, and people in attendance were urged to sign a special banner thanking them for all their work. The signed banner will now be hung throughout the holiday season from the railroad bridge over Sound Beach Avenue so all people coming in will be able to see it. The banner includes the emblems of the Greenwich Police Department, the Fire Department, Greenwich Emergency Medical Services, the Sound Beach Volunteer Fire Department Fire Rescue, the Cos Cob Volunteer Fire Co., and the Cos Cob Fire Police, as well as the state’s Department of Emergency Management, the Stamford Fire and Rescue, the American Red Cross, and the National Guard. The town’s Department of Parks and Recreation’s tree and marine divisions are also on the banner.

“These are the people that worked together and allow us now to say that not one person was injured or lost their life in the town of Greenwich during this horrific event,” Mr. Tesei said. “For that we are eternally grateful.”

Mr. Bischoff said he helped organize it with fellow Old Greenwich residents after he watched the Greenwich Fire Department bravely battle the fire that burned down three homes during the heavy winds and high tides, saving many more homes in the process.

“They worked their butts off cutting down trees, fixing wires and fighting the fire,” Mr. Bischoff said. “This all happened three blocks from my house with the embers landing on the roof. I watched them do heroic work, and I thought we should cheer these guys.”

Old Greenwich Association President David Rafferty said what made this effort really stand out was that it grew organically from the homeowners and not through organizations like his, the merchants or the first selectman’s office.

“Residents did this,” Mr. Rafferty said. “They came to us and to the merchants and got us involved in it, not the other way around. They wanted to show their thanks, and the fact that they did this says a lot.”

Mr. Rafferty then added, “Especially after what happened during the storm, the homeowners here recognize what first responders do for them. And many of our first responders here are homeowners throughout town. They all pulled together, our police, our fire, the Red Cross, the volunteers, to help this town when we needed it, and we should be out here thanking them for it.”


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