German firefighters help village FD celebrate 150th


In a display of international camaraderie, firefighters from Freeport recently welcomed their counterparts from sister city Walldorf, Germany, to join in celebrating Freeport Fire Department’s 150th anniversary, solidifying a friendship that has flourished for decades.

This unique bond — rooted in shared values and mutual respect — has already been celebrated through various events, including the Freeport Memorial Day parade, marking another chapter in their ongoing relationship.

Maximilian Bowitz of the Walldorf Fire Department traced the origins of this friendship for the Herald, while in the company of volunteers at Freeport Truck Company 1, at 76 Church Street, on Friday May 31.

The relationship dates to when Freeport firefighter Allen Grosser was stationed as a soldier for the U.S. army in Heidelberg in Germany during the 1960s and met relatives of Walldorf emigrants living and serving as firefighters in Freeport.

After discovering that these relatives were also firefighters, the two units forged a connection that has grown over the years.

“It’s hard to tell an exact date (for the start of the visits), but large groups visiting each other started in the ‘90s,” Bowitz said.

“Walldorf had our 150th anniversary in 2015,” Bowitz added. “And we invited our friends from the Freeport Fire Department. And so they invited us also, of course, for their anniversary this year.”

These exchanges have become a tradition, with annual visits for events, such as attending German firefighters’ street festivals and recognizing significant anniversaries.

“It was a great honor for us to be invited to march with the Freeport Fire Department,” Bowitz said, recalling the touching moment when the crowd clapped and cheered for the German firefighters during the parade.

The most recent weeklong visit — which included 48 German firefighters staying at the Firehouse at Freeport Truck Company 1 and the Freeport Motor Inn — also highlighted the similarities that the two fire departments share, since both Freeport and Walldorf boast large volunteer contingents. This shared commitment to volunteerism strengthens their bond, fostering a sense of mutual respect and admiration.

Christiane Staab, mayor of Walldorf from 2011 to 2021 and current German State Assembly member, was among the visitors to Freeport the week of Memorial Day.

Staab, who completed basic firefighter training and now serves as the vice president of the County Firefighters Association in Walldorf, presented official recognition from the association to several Freeport firefighters who have contributed significantly to the friendship.

“It’s a great honor that she’s here, not only in these positions (of mayor and state assembly member) but also as a firefighter,” Bowitz said.

Firefighters from Bavaria, who have also become friends with Freeport’s volunteers, organized a special dinner on May 31 to thank their American hosts, with Staab helping to prepare the meal by chopping greens, while fielding questions from the Herald. Bavarian firefighter Joseph Suckart visits New York five to 10 times each year to meet with his firefighter friends.

The dinner was given as appreciation for the warmth and hospitality that the German firefighters received throughout their stay.

“We received so much this week. This dinner is just a little way to say ‘thank you,’” said Staab, who now works as a counselor for the Walldorf Fire Department, in addition to her duties as a state assembly member.

“There are firefighters who are very affected by the things that happened (throughout their course of duty), and this is my job to look after them,” added Staab, whose nighttime counseling calls have earned her a reputation among the firefighters for being a “night owl.”

For Bowitz and his colleagues, the friendship forged between Walldorf and Freeport is more than a connection among communities — it’s about the people.

“We have fathers, sons, and soon even grandsons who have been part… of this friendship,” Bowitz said, highlighting the inter-generational ties that have been nurtured over the years.

Ray Maguire, executive director of the Freeport Fire Department, said, “The relationship between our German firefighter friends and the Freeport FD spans over 56 years.

“It has grown to an impenetrable bond that we are truly blessed to have,” Maguire added. “The relationship spans past the borders of Freeport and Walldorf, Germany, as other fire departments have joined with us both here in the states, and in Germany to build an amazing relationship.”