NEWTOWN - Sandy Hook's firefighters are a pretty tight-knit bunch even in the best of the times.
In the face of most evil of circumstances, they're finding solace and comfort where you might expect them to: in their bonds with each other and the stunningly positive outpouring of support they've received from fellow firefighters -- and regular people -- across America.
"It's our community, and I think it's hit everybody hard," said Kelly Burton, 20, a firefighter for the past five years -- and an alumna of Sandy Hook Elementary School whose mother works at the school and survived Friday's unimaginably horrific shootings.
Burton is one of four women and three members of her family on the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company, which numbers more than 50 people and is right at the end of the access road leading from Riverside Road to the school.
"I think that everybody, we're healing together -- and everyone is finding someone to lean on," Burton said. "It's a very close firehouse. When you're on a fire department, it's a second family."
Assistant Fire Chief Anthony Capozziello said, however, that he expects things to get worse before they get better.
"I don't think it's hit anybody yet, because we've been so busy," Capozziello said. "I think when things quiet down, that's when it's going to affect people."
Grief counselors did come in and meet with the department's members, he said.
"It definitely brings us together," said a young
"I mean, we were close before," but the department is noticeably closer in the wake of the shootings, he said.
No fire department members lost any immediate family members, he said.
"We've had a lot of firefighters from a lot of other towns help us," the firefighter said.
As he spoke, firefighters from the Danbury and Greenwich fire departments helped direct official traffic coming in along what (since the shootings) has been a closed-to-vehicles section of Riverside Road with Connecticut state troopers stationed at either end.
The police, firefighters and others who were allowed in had to navigate around throngs of people who have been walking in to pay tribute to the fallen angels at a burgeoning shrine that has grown around the Sandy Hook Elementary School sign on the corner across from the fire station.
Firefighters from Danbury's Miry Brook Volunteer Fire Department ran a shuttle to bring people in from the nearest place on one end where civilian vehicles could park.
Friday's unthinkable horror "has hit our family very hard," said Burton, speaking at that point of the family she was born into, not her extended fire department family.
But even her personal family is a firefighting family.
Her father, Michael Burton, is the department's second assistant chief. Her brother, Michael Burton Jr., is a junior member of the department.
Burton's mother, Shari Burton, is an educational assistant at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Shari Burton was inside the school during Friday's attack, during which alleged shooter Adam Lanza, 20 -- armed with a semi-automatic assault rifle and two semi-automatic pistols -- shot his way in, then quickly gunned down 26 people; 20 6- and 7-year-old children and six teachers and staff members.
The elder Burton survived and was not injured, her daughter said.
"She's a very brave woman," said Kelly Burton. "She helped keep her class safe."
Burton and the two other firefighters who would talk about it Monday afternoon said that everyone in the department has been deeply affected by what happened -- and they've all been affected in similar ways, whether they were among the firefighters who initially responded to the school or those who found out about it later.
"Everybody knows what happened," said Capozziello, who lives just up a street that empties out across Riverside Road from the firehouse -- and whose children all went to Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Capozziello, who also works as a crew chief for the town's Highway Department, said he knew of at least two firefighters' family members who worked at the school, but they were not injured.
"Personally, I've kind of just been in this state of mind -- I feel broken..." said Kelly Burton. "You never think it can happen here. You never think it can happen to you."
One way she has coped is to get together with seven friends to start making lapel ribbons -- in layered shades of green and white, Sandy Hook School's colors -- to commemorate their fallen neighbors. Each ribbon at its center has a little white angel with shiny silver wings and a little diamond-like jewel heart.
"Yesterday we made about 300," said Burton, who is the only firefighter involved in the project. "We plan on making probably over 1,000."
Burton said it bothers her that Newtown -- a picturesque community just a stone's throw away from Danbury and a slightly longer stone's throw from Waterbury, Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford and New York City -- now is known so far and wide as a place where such a horrible thing happened.
"I don't want our town to be known for this," she said. "I want us to be known for all the wonderful people and wonderful things that go on here."
Want kinds of wonderful things?
Well, there's the "Passport to Sandy Hook" every October, which was created as a way to showcase Sandy Hook's local businesses. Then there's the beautiful Christmas tree lighting that takes place each year during the first week of December, she said.
Capozziello said that one of the positive things that have helped lift spirits is the overwhelming outpouring from people all across America who have been moved by what happened.
Every time the phone rings inside the firehouse, it seems as if it's another offer of help, he said.
Among them, "some guy called from Oregon and donated 26 wreaths," Capozziello said. They arrived, "real fresh," and the fire department had them taken to be mounted on a bridge rail not far away, he said.
The firehouse also got a call from someone in North Carolina who, after seeing in the background of a TV news report that the department was running its annual Christmas tree sale as a fundraiser, promptly bought 26 trees and asked the department to put them out at the shrine across the drive.
Those Christmas trees are now what many of the public's tributes are being hung on.
Asked if there was anything he wanted the world to know, Capozziello said he wanted people to know "that we appreciate everybody's support. "