For blocks, the blare of sirens filled Belmar as fire truck after fire truck paraded down Main Street.
These first responders were among the heroes who in many cases left their own homes' devastation to save others from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, officials said, kicking off the 40th Belmar Lake Como St. Patrick's Day Parade Sunday.
Lining the trucks end to end was longer than the parade route. But at the beginning, dozens of the first responders marched to kick off the parade at 12:30 p.m. A special ceremony of parade chairpersons, local fire officials and freeholders ushered in a celebration that showed the importance of Irish culture in Monmouth County, but also the community spirit post-Hurricane Sandy.
The parade was arguably the first large-scale community event to be held in Belmar since Hurricane Sandy sent a storm surge through town, reaching the very street of the parade route -- Main Street. Areas of Surf Avenue and east to Ocean Avenue remain heavily damaged, but rebuilding communities was literally going on during parade day but also celebrated by the paraders themselves.
In addition to the parading men and women who make up local police, EMS and fire companies, who conducted countless rescue operations during the immediate days after Hurricane Sandy, support groups formed to help recover and rebuild were also parading Sunday.
Groups such as Squan Strong, formed by volunteers committed to rebuilding Manasquan, marched in their first St. Patrick's Day parade this year, while other groups added their 40th run in the parade, which is in its 40th year.
Police Chief Thomas Palmisano estimated as many as 100,000 visitors came to Belmar Sunday for the parade.