Mineola welcomes Portuguese fire department in exchange program

Mineola welcomes Portuguese fire department in exchange program
Mineola and fire department officials pose with delegates from Estarreja, Portugal. (Photo courtesy of the Village of Mineola)

Mineola and its volunteer fire department hosted some very special guests this week. 

Representatives from Estarreja, the city in Portugal where Mayor Paul Pereira was born, and its volunteer fire department visited the village during a weeklong exchange program with the Mineola Volunteer Fire Department. 

The Portuguese delegation included Estarreja’s mayor, New York-born Diamantino Sabina, and officials of the Estarreja Volunteer Firefighters. 

Pereira said during a brief ceremony Wednesday night he saw the week as the first of many opportunities to build a friendship with the city.

“We had this idea that we would like to have an exchange program,” Pereira said. “This week we are having the first wave of that conversation come to fruition.”

The mayor said while chaperoning an exchange trip in April between Mineola High School and United Lisbon International School, a family friend introduced him to the chief of the department, otherwise known as Bombeiros Voluntários de Estarreja in Portuguese. 

Estarreja, founded in 1519, is a small town in Portugal with a population of about 28,000 people. It is 166 miles north of Lisbon, the county’s capital, and 32 miles from Porto. 

Mineola’s Portuguese history runs deep in the village, first beginning when immigrants arrived from Massachusetts or elsewhere to work on construction projects in the 1920s. Since 2014 the state’s Portugal Day Parade has been held in the village each June. 

Currently, the village has its first Portuguese-born mayor in Pereira and Portuguese-born fire chief in Domingos Magalhaes, who presented a plaque to Sabina and Estarreja Chief Joaquim Rebelo commemorating the departments’ partnership together. 

Officials from the Mineola Fire Department will be traveling to Portugal sometime in the next year, Pereira said. It would be the second time the department traveled overseas as part of a cultural exchange.

In 2005, the Mineola Junior Fire Department began a relationship with the Stellingen-Hamburg Fire Department in Germany. Stellingen-Hamburg advisers and junior firefighters came to the village to observe and participate in trainings with Mineola’s department in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

In 2008, the village’s junior fire department traveled to Hamburg, Germany, to complete their half of the program. 

Sabina, of Yonkers, first moved to Portugal in 1981, the same year Pereira and his family moved to the United States. The Portuguese mayor said it was a privilege to be invited to Mineola and receive such a warm welcome. Joining Sabina and Rebelo from Portugal were Marco Braga, president of the Association of Volunteer Firefighters of Estarreja; Amilcar Pereira, association vice president; and Ricardo Silva, assistant to the chief. 

Sabina said Mineola is not only beautiful and clean but has every resource possible to live in comfort in the best way. 

“I really appreciate the help that Paul and everyone else in Mineola are giving us in Estarreja,” Sabina said.

Pereira, a social studies teacher in the Mineola School District, invited Sabina to a few classes at Mineola High School, including Portuguese and government. He also presented Sabina Wednesday night with a key to the village on behalf of Mineola’s 21,000 residents and Rebelo with a commemorative coin.

Sabina returned the favor by giving Pereira a numbered plate depicting António Egas Moniz, a famous Portuguese doctor from Estarreja and the first Portuguese national to receive a Nobel Prize in 1949 and Magalhaes a plaque from Estarreja. 

Moniz, who died in 1955 at 81, developed both cerebral angiography, an imaging procedure to visualize blood vessels, and leucotomy, a procedure that removes specific parts of the brain’s frontal lobe. 

Following the Wednesday night ceremony, the Mineola Fire Department held a fund-raiser in the village, with proceeds going toward a new training facility in Estarreja that the firefighters are in the process of building. 

“Whether you’re a firefighter in the United States in Mineola or in Portugal in Estarreja , it means and says a whole lot about your character so we thank anyone who’s a firefighter on either side of the Atlantic for their services,” Pereira said. 

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