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Admiration flows for lifesavers

Wednesday morning's drizzle couldn't dampen the spirit of third-graders at Dunedin Elementary School waiting for their turn to jump on the fire engine that arrived for the Great American Teach-in. They giggled and screamed and asked loads of questions.

For some, like 10-year-old Sammy Falcon, one tour wasn't enough.

"Can I go again?" he asked his teacher, Wendy Kolev.

That's how it is every year when firefighters visit a school for the event, which calls on local volunteers to talk to students about their professions.

But this year, after the terrorist attacks, there's a new appreciation for local heroes _ and not just among children.

"It brought what we do to light, with parents teaching their kids and teachers teaching their class about what we do," said Lt. Chris Thomas of the Dunedin Fire Department.

Adults are definitely more responsive and the community as a whole has been more appreciative, Thomas said. For example, he said, a month after the tragedy, a local neighborhood showed up at the Dunedin firehouse with a full buffet.

For three hours on Wednesday, Thomas and fellow firefighter/paramedics talked to several Dunedin Elementary classes and noticed that interest had spread to educators as well.

"The teachers are asking a lot of questions, which is interesting because usually you don't get a lot of questions from the teachers," Thomas said.

Of course, first-graders at High Point Elementary School had the traditional reaction to John Milliman, a retired firefighter from East Avon Fire Department in New York. Milliman, who still works as a part-time firefighter in New York, stopped by his nephew's school while visiting family in the area.

True to form, the first-graders insisted that he layer on every piece of his fire suit and gear, from hat to boots, before he spoke a word.

From there, they wanted to know how many people he has rescued and how many cats and dogs he has saved in his career as a firefighter.

Milliman pointed out a button on his cap, honoring fellow comrades for the "bad thing" that happened in New York.

"The plane crashed into the building and a whole bunch of people died," Patriece Breland, 6, explained to the group as if it were new information.

Then it was back to cats and dogs.

At Fitzgerald Middle School, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office landed a helicopter in the middle of the physical education field, and the Pinellas Park Police Department showed off sparkling Harley-Davidsons from its new motorcycle squad.

After a canine demonstration, hordes of students packed onto the field to check out the show.

Sgt. Kevin Riley, of the Pinellas Park Police Department, said he has noticed a change in the attitude of adults, but that kids seem the same since the tragedy. When they see a police officer, they're either worried that they're in trouble or fascinated by police cars and canine units, he said.

But some of the kids at Fitzgerald Middle School said their ideas about law enforcement have changed since the tragedy.

Now, "I recognize the risks they take," said eighth-grader Casie Goelz, 13.

And seventh-grader Greg Humm said the Teach-in reinforced his appreciation. "I respect them more because now you have a better look at what they do," he said.