In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the people of Slovakia demonstrated their deep and long-standing support for the United States, as well for the first responders who worked to save lives that day.
As news of the attacks reached Slovakia on the evening of September 11, many Slovaks brought candles to the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava to show their support. They held a vigil outside the embassy in an outpouring of support while Americans inside the building grappled with the tragedy.
“I was surprised by the makeshift shrine that appeared outside of the embassy doors where people placed flowers, candles, and notes of condolence,” recalls then-acting Chargé d’Affaires Gregory Orr. “Visitors came to express their sorrow and solidarity in words, gifts, and gestures. Even a group of firemen dressed in full regalia came to pay their respects in honor of their American counterparts who lost their lives.”
Juraj Kopúnek, a firefighter at the Bratislava fire department, was on duty when he learned of the attacks in New York City. He and his fellow firefighters watched the news together and were filled with a profound sadness.
“We thought of our colleagues from FDNY and hoped that as many people as possible managed to escape from the crash site before the collapse,” he says. “The idea of helping the FDNY started that evening.”
Kopúnek and the firefighters at his station offered to deploy their special firefighter unit to New York City to help with recovery efforts. While they were not able to travel to New York, Kopúnek and his colleagues sent a special symbol of their support — a signed firefighter raincoat.
In New York City, U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Ron Weiser presented the signed uniform to New York City firefighters.
Over the years, the New York City Fire Department and the Bratislava firefighters have exchanged a variety of tributes, such as a firefighter’s helmet and a wooden statue of St. Florian — the patron saint of firefighters.
On the 10th anniversary of September 11, Kopúnek traveled to New York City and reconnected with his New York City Fire Department friends.
“I visited ground zero and any FDNY fire stations, where local FDNY firefighters showed me our gifts, which they respect with their love to this day,” he says.
More information and items from the exchange will be on display in Slovakia as part of the “We Will Never Forget” exhibit from September 7 to September 30 at Hviezdoslavovo Square in Bratislava.