Usually when firefighters and police officers have a reason to spend time together, it's not a happy one. But July 16, first responders pulled up their fire trucks and squad cars to a cookout, music performance and a park full of residents there to thank them for their service.
"It feels strange because we're not used to being thanked," said Fire Chief Rob Ugaste. "It's very special and very generous."
Mark Veth, owner of Be Spectacled in Wauwatosa, started First Responders Fest in Hart Park last year. He had seen the sacrifices his father made as a police officer in Chicago and said he wanted to recognize those in his own community on the front lines of emergencies.
"They're trained to do their jobs and not ask for anything," Veth said. "I know I like to hear people say thanks in my job. I thought it would be nice to let them know we support them."
Veth worked with the Village of Wauwatosa Business Improvement District to organize the festival and find sponsors. In the event's second year July 16, local band Rectifier played the Rotary Pavillion as local businesses like Leff's Lucky Town and Cranky Al's donated food.
Ugaste had the whole fire department visit the park at different times. They showed kids around their trucks, socialized and relaxed on the lawn.
Brent Lee, deputy fire chief, said he appreciated the gratitude of the community, both at the festival and while he's on the job.
"It's so rewarding," Lee said. "You see how much people care, the way they thank you when you transport someone to the hospital. You change a lot of people's lives. I have kids, and whenever I treat kids and see parents' reactions, that's when it sinks in."
You can keep up with the festival and its plans for next year at facebook.com/FirstRespondersFest.
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