While co-chairmen of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, fire service leaders and survivors stood at attention, three groups of Fire Service Honor Guard walked with reverence and purpose to their spots on the U.S. Capitol grounds. Simultaneously, each group folded a U.S. Flag and then gently placed them in special cases. They were now ready for the journey to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
A new tradition has been created uniting Congress, the fire service and fire service survivors during the first-ever Congressional Flag Presentation Ceremony. Days before the event, 107 flags flew above the Capitol Dome to honor the lives of 98 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2013 and nine who died in previous years. On Sunday, October 12, these flags will be presented to the survivors of the 107 brave men and women whose names will be added to the Memorial.
Congressional Fire Services Caucus Chairman, Congressman David Reichert of Washington’s 8th District, acknowledged not only the great sacrifices these firefighters had made but also the sacrifices endured by those attending who had lost a relative, friend or co-worker. “I will never forget. You will never forget. We will never forget those who were lost in service to our country,” he said.
Congressman Reichert was joined by his fellow House caucus co-chairmen: Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland’s 5th l District, Congressman Peter King of New York’s 2nd District and Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. of New Jersey’s 9th District.
Recalling words of President Woodrow Wilson, Representative Hoyer said, “These flags represent the life of our nation, the principles of our nation and the gratitude of our nation for those who served and paid the ultimate price for their willingness to be ready when the bell rings.”
It was Congress that authorized the creation of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and now members of Congress have ushered in this new tradition on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. “It’s an honor to be with you today and an honor to be part of this ceremony,” said Congressman King. He noted that our nation’s representatives, regardless of which side of the aisle they occupy, are also proud to support our country’s firefighters. “We all stand together as one to honor the firefighters who, every day, put their lives on the line,” he said.
Nevin Steffy took great pride in being at the ceremony. Steffy’s father Edward Steffy of the Rothsville Volunteer Fire Company in Pennsylvania, died in 2011. “This event with Congress helps to make the public aware of the important work of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and how much it means to the survivors.”
The Congressional Flag Presentation Ceremony was coordinated through the joint efforts of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, the Congressional Fire Services Institute and the NFFF. Bill Webb, CFSI Executive Director and NFFF Vice Chairman, served as the Master of Ceremonies for the event.
“I’m very honored to be here and to participate in this ceremony” explained Gladys Falkenhan, whose husband Mark of Lutherville Volunteer Fire Company in Baltimore County, Maryland, died in 2011.” To see Congress support us and allow us to be here is very important to me as a survivor to show they understand the sacrifices we have made.”
In his comments, Congressman Pascrell emphasized the importance of remembering the sacrifices the firefighters have made as well as what their families have endured. “We present these flags gratefully and with heavy hearts,” he said. “Now, and always, let us never forget.”
The 107 flags will be on display in the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Chapel in Emmitsburg until the Memorial Ceremony on October 12.