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Local heroes face-off on the field

Last year, the Maitland firefighters were champs of the Maitland nonprofit's event

Last year, the Maitland firefighters were champs of the Maitland nonprofit's event

Carmen Carroquino

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It might seem like just fun and games but the Friends of First Response annual kickball tournament has done more than just create a little healthy competition between local firefighters and law enforcement.

In fact, in 2009 some of the $12,000 raised by the first tournament saved the home of a disabled firefighter when he could not make the mortgage payment. And since then, it has fulfilled the wish lists of many of Maitland’s heroes. From dress uniforms for the Maitland Fire Department to cozying up the Maitland Police Department with some patio furniture, the group has showed those first on the scene of emergencies that the community appreciates them.

In their second year of pitting first responders against one another as well as other teams for a healthy dose of competition, Friends of First Response, a nonprofit organization that benefits first responders in Maitland, will host its annual kickball tournament, where 12 teams will lace up their sneakers and kick their way to benefit local heroes.

Maitland firefighters and police, the Winter Park Police Department, local offices of the FBI, Secret Service, IRS, U.S. Marshals and others around the area will battle each other for the top spot from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 25 at Keller Road Baseball Complex in Maitland.

Linda Frosch, Maitland city councilwoman and founder of the nonprofit, said the organization shows the men and women who risk their lives to help people everyday how much they’re appreciated and should be appreciated throughout the community.

“There’s always something that’s not in the budget that they need,” she said. “The organization just makes their lives a little easier by helping them out when they need something. It’s the least we can do for all that they do for us.”

In 2008, Frosch, who has a long history of first responders in her family, was soon-to-be elected to her current position when she made it her mission to fulfill a need among some Maitland firefighters.

On a visit to the department, she noticed on the bulletin board a wish list of items. A need for formal uniforms, called “dress-blues,” was at the top of the list when Frosch recalls saying, “I’ll get them for you somehow.”

And she did.

That same year Friends of First Response was started and 29 Maitland firefighters got their dress-blues priced at around $500 each.

Ken Neuhard, Maitland’s fire chief, said he thinks the organization is great for looking after his officers and others in a time of need.

“With budgets as tight as they are, I’m appreciative of their efforts to provide us with things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford,” Neuhard said.

Sgt. Louis Grindle, of the Maitland PD, agrees and said the nonprofit brings a lot of positive attention to first responders and helps represent them in the community.

Mark Round, president of FOFR, said that all funds raised by the charity are distributed as need arises throughout the year, whether it’s for individuals or whole departments.

He said the charity is a way to “honor, support, aid and involve first responders.”

“Although they work in the community, first responders don’t always feel like they’re a part of it,” he said. “It’s important to spend some time interacting with them outside of crisis situations and get to know them for their kindness and decency.”

In 2009, Friends of First Response even started hosting informal safety sessions such as CPR training and fire safety to bring community members and first responders together.

Round said Friends has also worked on behalf of the Maitland PD and raised the issue to city leaders of the need for take-home patrol cars for local officers. He says city managers and Friends of First Response are looking into making that happen for some officers.

He said he hopes to raise more than $10,000 at the tournament this year and invites the community out for a nice, family-fun day that is sure to top last year’s event.

The Maitland firefighters took home the bragging rights last year over the Maitland PD. But this year, they’re back and facing more competition, as this is the first year the Friends of First Response kickball tournament trophy will be at stake.

Neuhard said, “The other teams are gunning for us, but we’ll play our hearts out.”

While Grindle joked, “Last year they put a whooping on us, but this year we have a new police chief that is going to hold me accountable if we don’t win.”