On April 14, 2016, retired Palm Beach County, FL Local 2928 fire fighter John Fischer stood holding the U.S. flag atop the Eiffel Tower with other fire fighters from Belgium and France — also flying their countries’ flags — to reenact an event that took place during World War II.
On August 25, 1944, while still under German occupation, a group of French fire fighters climbed the Eiffel Tower (the cable for the elevator had been cut by orders from Hitler) and flew the French flag, a dangerous feat at the time.
After having seen the plaque on the Eiffel Tower dedicated to the fire fighters on a recent trip to Paris, Fischer began to form his own plan. “I thought to myself, how cool would it be to do that now, with everything going on in the U.S., France and Belgium,” he says.
Fischer’s trip to Paris had been by invitation of Parisian and Belgium fire fighters after their participation in the Delray Beach St. Patrick Day Parade, hosted by Palm Beach, FL Local 2928.
Fischer takes pride in his local’s role in reviving the Delray Beach St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which was started in 1968 but was losing steam in 2008.
After the successful addition of Fischer and the Palm Beach County Firefighters Pipes and Drums band to the parade, members of Local 2928 took over the parade in 2010. Since then, the event has taken on a much more important and prestigious role in the community as the only St. Patrick’s Day parade in the nation where the lead focus is the recognition of both military and emergency personnel.
Part of Local 2928’s rebranding of the parade involved international collaboration. After successfully inviting the Dublin Fire Brigade Pipe Band to participate, Fischer and other members of Code 3 Events — a nonprofit organization, made up of Local 2928 members, formed to run the ever-growing parade — began reaching out to other international emergency organizations.
“We started sending Facebook invites to every fire department we could find, and soon we had fire fighters coming over from Australia, Canada, Belgium, France — all excited to support the parade,” says Fischer.
Many of the fire fighters from Belgium and France were eager to show their appreciation and support to the U.S. veterans of WWII, clamoring to push their wheelchairs in the parade. “What we did for them during WWII means so much to them even now,” says Fischer.
A group of Belgian and French fire fighters became a main staple of the parade, gathering major press when — in 2012 — the Belgian’s plane crashed during take-off in Philadelphia on their way to the parade in Florida. The Belgian fire fighters helped evacuate passengers using the emergency chutes and were hailed as heroes both stateside and in their country and began a lasting friendship between the U.S., Belgian and French fire fighters.
“The international collaboration that has been founded really points out that it doesn’t matter what patch you wear — we are united in service,” says Local 2928 President Jose Gonzalez.
And so Fischer found himself on his way back to Paris to reenact that moment in 1944 with his fellow fire fighters.
“The weather was beautiful, and the event itself was rather calm, but I can’t tell you how it felt to stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow brothers in light of all the terrorist events that have taken place lately,” says Fischer.
“My eyes were watering and my heart swelled as we each held our flag, unified, fighting a war together, some 70 years later.”