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Saying Thanks: A Bench for Belmont's First-Responders

An idea to honor Belmont's public safety employees for their work on Marathon Monday is becoming a reality a few contributions at a time.

On Marathon Monday, April 15, Belmont's Rachel Hinchliffe was with her two-year-old son, Theo, at the corner of Massachusetts and Commonwealth avenues in Boston to cheer on her stepmother just before a half mile from the finish line of the annual race.

Then, just before 2:50 p.m., Hinchliffe heard the first explosion. Then the next. 

"I saw a police officer step in front of all these runners and told them to stop," the Tobey Road resident said, finally seeing officers racing towards where the blasts occurred.

"I know it's part of their job description but you don't realize the danger they put themselves into," said Hinchliffe (who reunited with her stepmother a few minutes later.)

Early that Friday morning, April 19, a day after her husband flew off to California for a wedding they would attend, Hinchliffe received a call from her mother who was scheduled to take care of young Theo.

"'Don't go out for a run. Stay inside,' she said," said Hinchliffe. Belmont was officially in "lock down" – residents were told to say "in place" indoors – after a deadly-gun battle hours before with a fugitive terrorist on the run in neighboring Watertown.

Alone with her son, Hinchilffe said she felt "scared and so helpless" for the entire day.

"I was convinced that he was in the bushes," she said, noting that the world was focusing on such familiar sites – the Arsenal Mall, Target and local streets – that it just made her more anxious.

But she felt reassured when Belmont's public safety – police and fire – sent messages over the land line phone and their websites. 

"That level of communications made you feel that they were on top of it," said Hinchliffe.

After the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev late Friday, Hinchilffe – by now on her way to California – was thankful for all that police and fire did in Boston, Watertown and Belmont. But how could she express that feeling that would have a lasting effect. 

By now in California, she sent her first message ever to the members of the Belmont Family Group listserv – an on-line social group with younger children – seeking suggestions. Despite jet lag, Hinchliffe stayed up and communicated with a slew of members who made suggestions including buying lunch for the public safety employees.

Then one answer struck a chord with Hinchliffe: why not honor first responders with a commemorative bench at the new Joey's Park, to be built this October adjacent to the Winn Brook Elementary School.

At first, Hinchliffe thought it would cost a bit too much for just one person to afford.

But soon checks and contributions were being left in her mail slot from a dozen families, enough to purchase a $500 bench. The inscription will read:  “In appreciation of First Responders on events surrounding Marathon Monday April 2013.”

While not knowing each other, the 12 families were united in their desire to recognize those who protect the community, said Hinchliffe. 

Belmont's first responders appreciate the gesture from the community.

“It’s wonderful,” says Belmont Assistant Police Chief Jamie MacIssac. “I like the idea of it being at the park.  We like to think of ourselves being in all facets of the community.”

“I think it’s tremendous,” says Belmont Assistant Fire Chief Angus Davison.  “Anybody appreciates a thanks very much for what you do.”

“It’s an amazing tribute to our first responders and our community,” said Diane Miller, Friends of Joey’s Park co-chair. 

“And that’s exactly what this effort to build the new playground is all about – bringing together the whole town. When we build the new Joey’s Park next October there will be a role for everyone and it will be a time to come together to celebrate community.”

“It’s a win-win for the community," said Hinchliffe.

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