Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Area businesses pitching in to help four men affected by fire

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Sometimes the silver lining is fire-truck red.

A three-alarm fire that killed one resident and injured three firefighters May 3 as it ripped through the Halpine View apartments also left four pizza-makers with no clothes, no belongings and no homes.

But several groups of firefighters, people in the business of helping fire victims, are pitching in to help them.

The Montgomery County Fire Corps, along with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, Community Emergency Response Team and the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department, started a collection of clothes and household items to help the four men, all from Honduras, put their lives back together.

Sue Feldman owns Giuseppi’s Pizza Plus, the pizza shop in downtown Rockville where the men work, with her son Scott.

‘‘They’re wonderful people,” she said of the four men. ‘‘They lost literally everything in the fire. One of the guys has been working for us for 18 years, since we first opened. His brother also works for us. They’re like family to us. When we say we’re a family business, we mean it.”

So last week when Feldman saw Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Chief Thomas W. Carr Jr., a frequent customer, eating lunch in her restaurant, she seized the opportunity.

‘‘I told him about the four guys,” she said. ‘‘He told me, don’t worry, we’re going to take care of them. The fire department has been incredible. They’re all our customers.”

She declined to identify the men in order to protect their privacy, she said.

Greg St. James, a volunteer firefighter in Rockville, organized the emergency collections from his colleagues in the fire and rescue service.

‘‘Apparently, they lost everything, so Chief Carr asked [Division of Volunteer Services] Chief [Alan] Hinde to start collecting clothes and things,” St. James said. ‘‘Within a week we had a Suburban full of stuff for them.”

The firefighters loaded the pants, shirts, socks and everything else onto a fire truck this weekend and pulled up with their lights flashing behind Giuseppi’s Pizza Plus.

‘‘They brought in boxes of stuff,” Feldman said of the reverse pizza delivery. ‘‘Chief Carr said to make a list, to tell him what they need. It’s incredible. Rockville is OK in my book.

She added that Halpine View is putting the men at the top of the list for available apartments. Right now they are staying with family and friends.

Eric N. Bernard, president of the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department, said he considers the delivery a huge success.

‘‘I’d say the very first day was a success. The effort exceeded my expectations,” he said.

St. James said he was proud of the response from firefighters, especially considering the collection has been only internal to this point. He said he hopes the public will pitch in to help the men like the volunteers did.

Bernard agreed, saying, ‘‘These guys are living day to day. Even a firefighter can’t imagine the total destruction of everything they own, but firefighters and volunteers do pull together and help victims. It’s what they do.”

He added, ‘‘We know them all, and when we heard they needed this, we jumped.”

To help

Anyone who wants to make a donation of supplies can drop them off at Rockville Volunteer Fire Department Station 3, at 380 Hungerford Drive, Rockville, during normal business hours.