As the first names were read from the 2018 Roll of Honor at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service on Sunday, October 7, the sun broke through the clouds and haze. The unusual warmth for an October day in Emmitsburg, Maryland served as a reminder for the loved ones of the 103 fallen that they will forever be surrounded by comfort and support.
The lives of 80 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2017 and 23 who died in previous years were remembered and their names officially added to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. Through music, tribute readings and cherished fire service traditions, the families and friends of these courageous men and women were reassured that they – and their firefighters – would never be forgotten.
In his opening remarks, Chief Dennis Compton, Chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Board of Directors said, “Those of us involved with the Foundation feel it is our privilege to be here for you who have lost so much.”
Chief Compton noted that around the country, fire departments, places of worship, community groups and individuals were also taking time to pay their respects for the loss to the families, friends and communities affected. He also explained that the word “hero” – a term firefighters are uncomfortable accepting – certainly was used.
“It’s important to recognize that the men and women we are honoring today are not heroes because they died. They became heroes to the people in their communities the day they signed-up to be a firefighter,” he said. “And you – their family, friends and co-workers – are also heroes because you supported their willingness to serve.”
Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland’s 5th District and a Co-Chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, offered his deepest sympathies to all who are grieving and promised continued support for the fire service.
“We must not forget that for every name recorded on this memorial, there are spouses, children, parents, siblings, other friends and loved ones whose pain and loss continues. And we grieve with them,” he said.
Families and loved ones came forward as their firefighter’s name was called to receive an American flag that had been flown above the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial and the U.S. Capitol. They also were presented a red rose and a personalized badge bearing the name of their firefighter. A bell was tolled in the traditional 5—5—5 to announce the ultimate sacrifices had been made. The Honor Guards, Pipes and Drums, and Flag Presenters passed in review to pay their final respects.
With the sun shining brightly in cloudless blue skies, the loved ones of the 103 fallen could now make their way home, knowing that they and their firefighters would not be forgotten.
Memorial Weekend Events
The families and friends of the 103 firefighters honored this year were welcomed by the Foundation during a special dinner on Friday, October 5. On Saturday morning, the Fire Hero Families met in groups based upon their relationship to the firefighter. They learned about the services offered by the NFFF and talked with others who understand their feelings.
During the day they made luminaries, memory boxes, and Christmas ornaments to honor and remember their firefighters. They also recorded memories of their loved ones through the Foundation’s Hero Tributes.
On Saturday evening, the families gathered for the annual Candlelight Service. Chief Compton and U.S. Fire Administrator Chief Keith Bryant unveiled the bronze plaques with the names of the fallen and placed the Presidential Wreath at the Memorial.
Carol Jones, wife of fallen firefighter Chief Louis Jones, shared poignant stories about her husband. She offered reassurance to all those grieving.
“As I walked around the campus today I saw faces filled with love and unwavering devotion, and it is yours for the taking,” she said. “Simply reach out a hand and I promise you’ll find a dozen…a 100… a thousand hands reaching out to lift you up.”
The luminaries that were made earlier were lit and Chris Baker, wife of Gregory Baker who died in 2011, explained their history and significance, then lit a symbolic one. The tradition of the Remembrance Candle was explained by their daughter, Nikki Lude. Afterward, Chris, Nikki and a group of returning Fire Hero Families, shared the light from the candle with the new families, symbolizing their connection.
In a profound display of sympathy and support, more than 150 fire departments, buildings and landmarks – including One World Trade Center in New York, the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans, and Los Angeles International Airport – lighted in red for Light the Night for Fallen Firefighters. Additionally, hundreds of churches, fire departments and community groups around the country participated in Bells Across America for Fallen Firefighters by tolling a bell in honor of the fallen and their loved ones.
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