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Friendship Welcomes Five Into Its Hallowed Halls

On the day honoring his 270th birthday, "George Washington's Fire Company" added five new names to the list that contains those of every U.S. President.

With a ballroom full of firefighters, police, sheriffs, dignitaries and guests at the Holiday Inn on First Street, Alexandria's Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association, welcomed to its distinguished ranks Battalion Chief Doug Wheeler; volunteer firefighter Christopher Sefton; Alexandria Gazette Packett photographer Louise Krafft; Assistant Fire Chief, Metropolitan Airports Authority, Steven Cooper; and, well known Alexandria restaurateur and founder of the City's St. Patrick's Day Parade, Pat Troy.

Wheeler retired from the District of Columbia Fire Department in December 2000, after 34 years service. He continues to serve as a volunteer with the Hillandale VFD in Silver Spring, Md., and is active in many charitable organizations including the Special Olympics.

Sefton is not only a Lieutenant with the DC Fire Department but also serves as a volunteer firefighter in Waldorf, Md. He was previously a member of the Alexandria Fire Department and is currently President of the Emerald Society of Firefighters in Washington, DC.

Krafft, a native Alexandrian, was cited for her photos of the Annual Friendship Firehouse Festival, gaining overall publicity for the association, and for her photos of "the famous, important, funny, serious, large and small characters who live in and visit Alexandria."

Cooper, another 34-year veteran of the fire service began as a volunteer in Winchester, Va, before joining the Federal Emergency Management Agency and beginning his career at Dulles International Airport. Along with other responsibilities, he oversees the department's EMS and Special Operations divisions.

Troy was cited for his numerous civic activities and his promotion of Irish culture. This year's St. Patrick's Parade will recognize the heroes of Sept. 11, particularly firefighters, police, sheriffs and the military. It will include the flag that was hung on the Pentagon on Sept. 11 and an F-16 fly-by.

THE HIGHEST HONOR

The Association's highest honor, The Reverend Ben Lynt Distinguished Service Award, went to Michael A. Connor, Sr., Alexandria's Chief Fire Marshall and the association's president for the past 12 years. Monday's breakfast affair was his last as president.

The award is named for the decades long chaplain of Friendship and long time member of the Alexandria clergy, the late Ben Lynt. It was initiated two years ago, after his death. The first recipient was Donald F. Simpson, Sr, Friendship vice president, who presented the award to Connor.

As a native Alexandrian, Connor began his firefighter career while a student at George Washington High School in the fire cadet program. Following service with the U.S.Coast Guard, he returned to Alexandria and the fire department where he rose through the ranks to become deputy fire chief.

In addition to his many other activities on behalf of fire safety and prevention over the years, Connor has served on state level committees developing the Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention Code. After more than four appointments by Virginia Governors to the State Building Code Technical Review Board, he currently serves as its Chairman.

By relinquishing the role of Friendship's president, Connor becomes only the third President Emeritus in the association's 228 year history. He was succeeded in the presidency by Edward J. Snyder.

HEROES AMONG US

In line with the theme of this year's event, "The Heroes Among Us," and in response to the events of Sept. 11, coupled with the forthcoming terrorist trials, Alexandria Mayor Kerry Donley urged the audience to "realize our unique place in history."

He noted, "It will be Alexandria that will be the site of justice for the terrorists. There will be inconveniences, but we need to endure those inconveniences.

"We need to remember that they will be relatively minor to those endured on Sept. 11 in New York, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. Just as we heeded the call 200 years ago, we need to heed the call to meet the challenges before us today."

That sentiment was echoed by City Manager Philip Sunderland. He emphasized, "If you think of one extraordinary thing about this nation, it is its system of justice. No matter how bad or evil the acts of people there is an incredible system of justice and fairness. What will take place here in the next five years is an example of that fairness."

Sunderland compared Sept. 11 with any other day in recognizing the dedication of the fire services assembled before him. "Every day you put your life on the line." He also saw 9-11 as an earthquake, realigning the nation's priorities.

He highlighted three categories of realignment: 1. A better appreciation of what this nation is about; 2. A restructuring of whom we consider heroes; and 3. A clearer focus on the core values and principles of life.

JUST DOING THEIR JOBS

As the keynote speaker, Alexandria Fire Chief Thomas M. Hawkins, Jr., noted, "The events of Sept. 11 make us all feel vulnerable and we wonder when the next shoe will drop. But we have stood up to the challenge, just as our fathers did at Pearl Harbor and our grandfathers in World War I. And we will stand up to any future challenges.

"Firefighters have been meeting challenges since before George Washington's time. No firefighter will ever back down from a terrorist. That was evident on Sept. 11, here and in New York."

He closed by saying, "When a person signs on to become a firefighter or member of the EMS that is their act of bravery. Everything else is just doing their job."

Special recognitions, associated with Sept. 11 and its aftermath, were presented to representatives of Alexandria's fire, police and sheriff's departments. Also recognized were William W. Kehoe and Robert M. Luckett, for their efforts with the summer program, and Thomas Everett on his induction into the Fairfax County Sports Hall of Fame.