- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Firefighters are everywhere these days: at highway intersections, county shows and malls, holding up their black boots for contributions to help 320 of their colleagues killed or missing in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Area firefighters, forced to watch from the sidelines, are giving up their free time every day to collect aid for the victims' families. And they are not just using the traditional "fill the boot" fund-raisers to grab people's attention.
One Montgomery County firefighter, Mark Nelson, rewrote the lyrics of Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door" as a tribute to the victims. The song is now played by popular request on a local radio station. Mr. Nelson also is trying to negotiate a single CD contract, with "every penny, every dime and every dollar" to be donated to the victims.
"We have lost a couple of hundred members of our family," he said.
The national firefighters union has raised more than $1 million so far through the Web site (www.firehouse).com. Over the weekend, at an Orioles game in Camden Yards, area firefighters raised $77,000 plus change. The total could top $100,000 said Amy Davis, vice president of the Montgomery County firefighters union.
Last week, D.C. firefighters were at street intersections and Metro stations collecting money for the victims. On Friday, they presented a check for $293,000 to relief organizations. Firefighters' families also have raised thousands of dollars through car washes, bake sales and lemonade sales.
"It has been hard to stay focused, but there have been numerous examples of things being done in the area to raise funds," said Mike Mohler, president of the Virginia firefighters union.
What has been driving the firefighters is the feeling of helplessness. While several volunteer firefighters from the area have gone to the attack sites, local professional firefighters have not yet been permitted by their fire departments to do so because there already are several teams working there.
"It would be disrespectful to jump in without permission," said Doug Finlayson, who has been fighting fires for 30 years and says he desperately wants to go to New York and help.
He is among 100 Montgomery County firefighters who have signed up to do so if the county fire department permits it. Meanwhile, he is using his time after work to "do anything we can to help our brothers."
Late Monday evening, despite fierce weather in the area, several firefighters gathered after work inside a Hecht's store at the Lakeforest mall in Gaithersburg, boots in hand. A few wore their work helmets to grab the attention of passers-by.
The money trickled in slowly because the storm had kept most customers away from the mall. "The workers at Hecht's have been our best contributors," joked Ms. Davis, who works for the Burtonsville station.
The firefighters are not giving up.
On Thursday, they will gather again at Rockbottom Brewery in Bethesda for another "fill the boots" drive. On Friday, they will be at intersections across the area, giving motorists a chance to contribute.
They are doing this, they said, because the families of the firefighters killed in the attacks will need more money than what they would receive from the government.
"They get about $100,000 or so. But each one has kids who have to be put through college, old parents who need care it is not enough," said Jane Knopfmacher, a Silver Spring firefighter.
For some of the firefighters here, the attack has cut close to home. The week before the attacks, some firefighters from New York were in the area for a softball tournament, and local firefighters remember hanging out with them.
Now "seven members of that team are missing," said Stacey Daniel, a Poolesville firefighter.
Capt. Ray Sanchez was in the team of Montgomery firefighters who actually worked on the Pentagon site after the attacks. The experience, he said, was "devastating and very humbling."
"I have never been through anything of this magnitude before," he said. "I hope we'll never see anything like this again."

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