CT Firefighters' Funerals to Draw Thousands
The Connecticut Post via YellowBrix
July 29, 2010
BRIDGEPORT — Police and fire officials on Wednesday were finalizing plans meant to avoid gridlock on city streets and Interstate 95 Friday with thousands of people expected to descend upon the city for the funerals of two fallen firefighters, as well as the annual Gathering of the Vibes.
As many as 10,000 firefighters from across the nation and Canada are expected to attend funeral services for Lt. Steven Velasquez, 40, and firefighter Michel Baik, 49, who died while battling a house fire on Saturday.
Velasquez’s service will begin at 10 a.m. Friday morning at St. Augustine Cathedral, 359 Washington Ave., while Baik’s funeral will be held at 2 p.m. at St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church, 5458 Park Ave.
According to Scott Appleby, director of the city’s Emergency Operations Center, in order to avoid congestion in the city’s downtown and South End because of the thousands expected to attend the Vibes in Seaside Park, out-of-state firefighters are being instructed to take Exit 28 northbound and Exit 29 southbound off I-95, park their vehicles at Steelpointe and take school buses to the church services.
Vibes festivalgoers, as well as those planning to attend the firefighter funerals, are also being instructed to use Metro-North trains and the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson ferry whenever possible. Shuttle buses to both the funerals and the Vibes will be available from the city train station on Water Street.
Washington Avenue, between Coleman and James Street, will be closed to all traffic from 8 a.m. to noon, as well as several side streets that will only be accessible to residents. Later in the day, from 1 to 4 p.m., Park Avenue, from Eckart Street north to the Merritt Parkway, will be closed to traffic.
City officials said State Police will block off Exit 47 off the Merritt Parkway from 1 to 4 p.m.
The Waterbury, New York and Boston fire departments will also be on hand Friday to help Bridgeport coordinate activities at both funeral services.
Bridgeport Assistant Fire Chief Dominick Carfi said coordinating the processions, shuttle times and funeral services has been a difficult task. “We have to make sure we have the dignity and respect for both families,” he said. “We can’t speed one up or cut one short. We are trying to minimize the effect and stress for both families.”
City and fire unions have also begun disseminating information, through
e-mails and Facebook, about vacancies at area hotels, many of which are already entirely booked due to the Vibes.
Some hotels with openings, like the Courtyard by Marriott and the Hilton Garden Inn, both in Shelton, are offering special rates to firefighters attending the funeral services.
The entire Bridgeport Fire Department will be attending both funeral services on Friday, as well as a congregation of firefighters Friday night at the Arena at Harbor Yard.
In their absence, firefighters from Stamford, Fairfield, Norwalk, West Haven, Milford, Westport, Stratford, Waterbury, New Haven and Danbury will offer mutual aid in Bridgeport. Fairfield will receive mutual aid from Greenwich, Norwalk and Wilton while they are covering Bridgeport.
Fairfield Assistant Fire Chief Christopher Tracy said fire departments across the country consider themselves a “brotherhood.” He noted that the week before their deaths, Velasquez and Baik, who will be transported to their funeral services via firetruck instead of hearses, had covered for Fairfield Station 2 firefighters while they fought a blaze in their town.
“We are a brotherhood,” Tracy said. “We fight together, we eat together. For as long as we’re in this and after we retire, these are family relationships. It’s a bitter-sweet privilege to honor our brothers.”