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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, May 30, 2024


Nov. 20, 2001 – The first thing New York City firefighter Lt. Rudy Weindler planned on doing Monday after landing on St. Croix with his family was slip out of his city clothes, into a pair of swim shorts and then into the Caribbean Sea.
Weindler and his wife and children were the first of five families to arrive on St. Croix for a complimentary dose of R-and-R following the nightmare terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center on Sept. 11. The families, a total of 22 people, have been invited as the guests of Chuck Ulrich, owner of Blue Water Travel, a St. Croix-based villa-brokering firm, and a host of other island businesses and residents.
Sept. 11 and the following three weeks "was a trying time," Weindler said Monday at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport upon arrival for his first visit to St. Croix. "We did the best we could."
He was off duty that day, but as soon as word spread, he was on the scene.
"I was there, actually, as the towers were collapsing," he said. "And for the first 36 hours it was searching for survivors and putting out fires with little water … "
Weindler, of Ladder Company 40, Engine 37, in Harlem, said his station lost three
firefighters. It was worse elsewhere. "There are firehouses that lost 17 and 18 guys. All of us were either [at the WTC] right after the plane hit or right after the collapse," he said.
Because of the related stresses, Weindler said, the vacations that have been arranged by Ulrich are greatly appreciated.
After watching the events of Sept. 11 and the subsequent rescue efforts unfold on television, Ulrich decided to put together a vacation package of a donated villa and other perks for a firefigther and spouse. He told Marti Gotts of Vacation St. Croix, another villa broker, about his plans and she got several more villas donated.
Ulrich contacted the Family Crisis Center of the New York City Fire Department and told them about the available packages. Response was immediate, and 17 vacations are being arranged at St. Croix villas and hotels through early next year.
American Airlines offered discounted seats, and island residents and businesses have donated money to to cover the rest of the cost so that the firefighters and their families can travel free.
Scores of other business have donated a range of items and services as well, ranging from turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner to trucked water for villa cisterns.
"The amazing thing is how cooperative everyone has been," Ulrich said. "All you need to say is 'This is the situation,'" he said, and businesses and individuals "say 'Bring 'em down.'"
Descriptions of the 17 packages, most of seven days, can be viewed at www.st-croix.net/firemen.html. More lodging is needed to accommodate other interested firefighters and their families, Ulrich said.
"We’re running out of larger villas but we’re getting more families," he said.
To donate accommodations, goods or services or to obtain further information, call Ulrich at 340-773-1902.
To contribute toward airfare costs, send or take donations to the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development, 202 Chandlers Wharf Building, Gallows Bay, St. Croix VI 00820. Make checks payable to St. Croix Foundation and write "firemen's visit" on the memo line.

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