Paris Bittersweet for NYC Families
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PARIS (AP) _ As a guest of the Paris fire department this week, Janice Testa has had elegant receptions and spectacular sights to keep her mind off her firefighter brother’s death in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
But at the signing of a cooperation agreement between the New York Fire Department and the Paris Fire Brigade on Saturday, she just couldn’t stop the tears.
``It’s still a shock,″ said Testa, 49, of Valley Stream, N.Y., as she lifted her glasses to dry her eyes after the ceremony. ``Moments like this bring back memories.″
Testa was one of 75 family members of firefighters who died in the World Trade Center attacks taking a 12-day visit to France. The NYFD lost 343 members in the assault, including Testa’s brother, Henry Miller.
The pact signed Saturday provides for annual meetings between the two departments and a sharing of firefighting and anti-terrorism tactics, said New York Chief of Department Daniel Nigro.
``As our world is changing, we need to get together with others to learn what they know,″ Nigro said. He added that it was the first time for the NYFD to sign such an agreement.
At the ceremony at the Paris Fire Brigade headquarters, French officials praised the NYFD for courage and dedication and expressed sympathy for families of the fallen.
``The psychological shock that we felt turned into a great feeling of admiration for our American counterparts,″ said the chief of the Paris firefighters, Gen. Jacques Debarnot.
The trip for the family members, who arrived Monday, has been painfully bittersweet.
They have been treated to a boat ride up the Seine River, stays at top-notch hotels, a reception at the Eiffel Tower and other trips. But always in the back of their minds is the loss that brought them to Paris.
Geraldine Halderman, 68, of Brentwood, N.Y., lost a firefighter son on Sept. 11. She said her son, David Halderman, was on one of the first two trucks to arrive at the scene and was killed when the North Tower collapsed.
``The reason we’re here is so sad,″ said Halderman, who has a second son in the department. ``So many people have reached out to us since Sept. 11 _ I never knew there were so many wonderful people in the world.″
French officials were doing their best to keep the families and accompanying New York firefighters busy.
Later Saturday, the group was to be hosted at Paris City Hall where the two fire departments would demonstrate their firefighting gear. Other activities included the singing of a song commemorating Sept. 11.
The French government on Friday awarded the NYFD with a medal for courage and devotion.
On Sunday, the families were to attend a massive parade marking Bastille Day, France’s national holiday. The parade will include a New York fire truck and will be led this year by a squad of cadets from West Point military academy in New York.
For Janice Testa, all the attention shows that people outside of New York still remember the sacrifice of her brother and so many others.
``It’s hard in one way because we’ve had a loss,″ said Testa, whose father is a retired firefighter. ``But it’s good in a way because it takes our minds off of it.″