Sue Nasatka remembers clearly the last time she saw her father. She was 8-years old on that Sunday morning in July of 1958. A house was on fire and Alexander Johnson had to respond. In addition to working full-time with the Naval Academy Fire Department he volunteered with Rescue Hose Company #1 in Annapolis.
Firefighter Johnson collapsed at the scene and died that day from a heart attack.
“At that time, there wasn’t anyone honoring him or other fallen firefighters,” Ms. Nasatka said. “We didn’t know we were ‘survivors.’ There wasn’t a monument for his name. There wasn’t a special ceremony for us and other families to go to. It was just us.”
It wasn’t until many years later when she saw an article in a local paper that she learned about the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. The Memorial was established in 1981 and the Foundation was created by Congress in 1992 as the only national organization to honor all firefighters who died in the line of duty – including career, volunteer, wildland and military – and offer support to their families.
Now – nearly 58 years after her father died – Nasatka and many other survivors will see their firefighters’ name etched on bricks in Emmitsburg. On Saturday, June 11, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation will dedicate a special section of the Walk of Honor® on the grounds of the memorial for firefighters who died prior to 1981.
“This is bittersweet,” she said about the dedication. “This is a way of connecting with my father. None of these firefighters have ever been honored and now it’s time. This gives me hope. This is one step in the right direction.”
Nasatka was one of the first survivors of a firefighter who died before 1981 to become active with the NFFF. She is now helping others like her find the same comfort she found. But Sue felt more was needed, according to Chief Ron Siarnicki, Executive Director of the NFFF.
“Sue worked diligently with us to find a way to honor all the men and women who died while protecting and saving lives and properties in their communities,” Siarnicki said.
“Acceptance, understanding and comfort are what I found,” she said. “I didn’t have any support (when my dad died), but the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation has given it to me now, all these years later.”