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Borough firefighters rally for US troops during war

The war with Iraq has produced deep divisions between many American citizens. But one Queens group stands almost completely united in support of soldiers fighting on the other side of the world.

The borough’s firefighters are strongly in favor of U.S. actions in Iraq and opposed to the anti-war protesters, firemen said.

“Our guys are going over there to defend freedom and we’re going to support them,” said Eugene Kelty, a Whitestone firefighter and chairman of Community Board 7.

After losing 343 members of their force in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many firefighters said they thought George W. Bush’s decision to attack was designed to protect them from the replay of a similar catastrophe.

Members of the city’s Fire Department have been called heroes by people from across the country. Along with the city’s police officers, local firefighters are seen as a crucial part of the nation’s war on terror.

The city’s firefighters, including members of the 51 firehouses in Queens, have begun a drive to send FDNY T-shirts to troops in Iraq.

“We are going to collect them all and send them to the troops to say thank you,” said Thomas DaParma, the Queens trustee of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which has organized the drive. “We’re hoping to express our appreciation for them. We’re hoping to show the support back home.”

DaParma said there were several members of the UFA who were fighting in Iraq.

While firefighters said they were proud of the troops, many said they were unhappy with another group that has dominated headlines as of late.

Many of the borough’s firefighters expressed frustration with the anti-war protesters.

“I just feel all these hundreds of thousands are so out of touch,” said Mike Callaghan, a firefighter with Engine Co. 306 in Bayside.

Callaghan said he believed the protesters gave little thought to the firefighters who have to respond to terrorist attacks.

“They care more about the animals over there,” he said. “We’re on the front line of this thing.”

Callaghan said he wanted to organize a pro-war demonstration.

“Seventy-four percent of the country supports the action,” he said. “It’s always the silent majority.”

John Hartell, a fellow firefighter in the Bayside company, agreed with Callaghan.

“The soldiers are taking care of things so more buildings won’t be coming down,” he said. “Don’t [the protesters] realize that the soldiers are fighting for the free speech they’re using?”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.

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