Members of the Berkeley Police and Berkeley Fire departments traveled to Ireland last week at the invitation of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who wished to thank the first responders for the way they handled the tragic balcony collapse at 2020 Kittredge St. on June 16, that killed six and injured seven students, most of them Irish.
The first responders traveled to Ireland with the San Francisco Police Emerald Society on their scheduled trip. According to Berkeley Deputy Fire Chief Donna McCracken, the Berkeley ranks were made up of three personnel who responded to the balcony collapse, and three who assisted the families and Consulate in the days following the incident. Those who went were: Deputy Fire Chief Donna McCracken, Fire Captain Rick Guzman, Fire Captain Dave McPartland, firefighter/paramedic Ashley Bacher, and police officers Jennifer Coats, Stephanie Polizziani and Jitendra Singh.
McCracken said the Berkeley delegation was “treated like dignitaries.” “We had a police escort to our hotel and to the start of the parade on St. Patrick’s Day,” she wrote by email. “On Tuesday night, the day we arrived, we attended a reception at the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We were hosted by David Cooney, Secretary General of Foreign Affairs, and Jimmy Deenihan, Minister of Diaspora Affairs. We also met the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Criona Ni Dhalaigh.”
Families of the balcony collapse victims, both those who died and those who survived, were in attendance, McCracken said. “Quite a few of the young survivors were there themselves. It was emotional and inspiring to talk with families and survivors — amazingly strong people.
“The parade was fantastic,” McCracken continued. “Especially because Frank and Helen Murray, parents of survivor Niall Murray, made a parade banner for us and delivered it to our hotel in less than 24 hours! We marched in dress uniform among pipe and drum bands and were cheered on by a crowd of 500,000 spectators along a wonderful, winding route over the River Liffey, through Temple Bar and passing St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“Members of our group were able to spend private time with families of the victims, making the trip very special and quietly significant.”
Gratitude for Berkeley’s first responders has been plentiful. The families of four of the survivors issued a statement of thanks in July. It read in part: “We would like to thank all those who have been at our service 24/7 to help us all with matters great and small: The Bay Area and Berkeley police and fire department staff and the ambulance paramedics who were first on the scene of the accident – their early interventions contributed so much to keeping our grievously injured children alive. We are grateful too to the people of Berkeley and the surrounding areas for their on-going help and support.”
An Irish President Michael Higgins visited Berkeley, with his wife, Sabina Coyne, in October to thank first responders for their compassionate response. He said police and firefighters offered “practical, psychological and spiritual support” to the victims of the accident, as well as to their families. “In the blink of an eye, these young, talented and bright students, most of whom were thousands of miles from home, and their families and friends suddenly needed the compassion and intensive support of strangers,” Higgins said. “You did not fail them. Your actions gave such powerful definition to the term ‘hospitality.’”
The presence of the East Bay first responders in Dublin was covered by the Irish Independent who wrote before the parade had taken place, that it expected them to get “a heroes’ welcome.”
McCracken said the group was thrilled to have “furthered the connection between the City of Berkeley, the City of Dublin and the Country of Ireland.”
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