Family's visit affirms 9/11 link
LESS than a year ago, Sunshine Coast firefighter Rob Frey and New York fireman James Dowdell stood side by side in the United States Congress in Washington DC.
They had been invited to hear Prime Minister Julia Gillard's historic address to Congress.
To illustrate the close ties between Australia and the US, she spoke emotionally and at length of Mr Dowdell's father, NY fire officer Lieutenant Kevin Dowdell.
Lt Dowdell was among the 343 firefighters who died during the 9/11 World Trade Centre terrorist attacks in 2001.
Yesterday, James Dowdell and his family arrived on the Coast, and with Mr Frey, were given a VIP tour of Australia Zoo at Beerwah.
Mr Dowdell, his mother Rose, brother Patrick and Patrick's wife Katie, came to Australia to visit firefighter friends.
And on Tuesday, the family renewed acquaintances with Ms Gillard over a coffee in Melbourne.
The link between the Dowdells, Mr Frey, Australia and the Coast stretches back to 1998, when Gympie Digger Warwick Penrose trained with New York firemen in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics.
When the soldier left, he traded his slouch hat for a tattered, leather-covered NY fireman's helmet, damaged in the line of duty.
Lt Dowdell was among several firefighters who signed it.
In 2010, when Mr Frey, who was stationed at Gympie, was about to leave to take part in marathon run across the US to raise funds for the families of emergency personnel who died on 9/11, the Penrose family gave him the helmet to take back.
The circle closed in California just before the run when Mr Frey presented it to Mr Dowdell, who had become a NY firefighter, like his father.
Mr Dowdell was one of only 30 US and Australian firefighters doing the 7500km marathon to New York.
The helmet became a symbol.
"The firefighters' brotherhood stretches across the world," Mr Frey said.
Mr Frey said he expected to host a quiet barbecue for the Dowdells at his Sunrise Beach home last night.
Mr Penrose was to be one of the guests.