On the morning of September 17, 2019, leaders from the United States Congress and the fire service, loved ones of fallen firefighters, a Recruit Class from Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department, and others gathered in the Rayburn House Office Building (HOB) for the 6th Annual Congressional Flag Presentation Ceremony.
On the marble backdrop of the Rayburn HOB foyer, stood three red panels, eight-feet high and eight-feet wide, each lined with eight diamond plate shelves. Each shelf held approximately five American flags; and each flag was accompanied by a marker with the fallen firefighter’s name, picture, department, rank, date of death and age.
There was a total of 119 flags representing the 119 firefighters who gave their lives for their communities and nation – 92 in 2018 and 27 from previous years.
The flags were flown over the United States Capitol at the request of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus leadership. The caucus is made up of eight members of Congress dedicated to working in the spirit of bipartisanship to educate colleagues on the challenges facing our nation’s first responders. They include Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Jon Tester of Montana, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Congressman Peter King of New York, Congressman Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, and Congressman Mike Bost of Illinois.
Master of Ceremony, Bill Webb, Executive Director of Congressional Fire Services Institute and Vice-Chair of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Board of Directors, opened the ceremony reaffirming the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s mission.
As Bill Webb well said, “We, as a nation, should always keep these brave men and women, and their loved ones, in our collective thoughts and prayers.”
In 1992, Congress tasked the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation with honoring the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice and to support their families in their grief. To date, more than 4,300 names have been added to the walls of the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland. This year, 119 names will be added to honor those heroes these flags represent.
Following Bill Webb’s opening, the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend Honor Guard presented the colors; and Dennis and Jane Neville, parents of fallen firefighter Brian Dennis Neville of the Baltimore County Fire Department, led attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Father Patrick Conroy, Chaplain for the United States House of Representatives, then led the Invocation.
Then Bill Webb introduced the speakers: Senator Tom Carper, Chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus; Representative Steny Hoyer, Co-Chairman of the Congressional Fire Service Caucus; Chief Keith Bryant, Fire Administrator of the United States Fire Administration; and Troy Markel, the Chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s Board of Directors.
Senator Tom Carper used the opportunity to address the Recruit Class from the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department. He imparted words of wisdom and praised the qualities exhibited by the firefighter heroes being honored. He encouraged the firefighter recruits to do the following three things: “Always try to figure out the right thing to do – Not what is easy, not what is expected of you, but what is right; Treat other people the way we want to be treated – the most important rule of all; and, when you find somebody who needs some help, help them. That is what firefighters do.”
Then Senator Carper directed the recruit’s attention to the display of flags.
Representative Steny Hoyer continued, “The flag represents the idea of service and sacrifice and the commitment to others. We live in the land of the free because it is the home to the brave.”
Chief Keith Bryant went on to remind the recruits of their charge, “Your commitment to them [firefighters who have died in the line of duty] is to honor them by working hard to make sure you are working as safely and looking out for your brother and sister firefighters as much as you can. We are once again reminded by these heroes’ ultimate sacrifice… There is no greater love than this to lay down one’s life for another. America is blessed by the courage and commitment of our domestic defenders.”
Troy Markel, NFFF Board Chairman, concluded the speeches by thanking the Congressional Fire Service Caucus, “Each year we work with our partners here on Capitol Hill and across the federal government and the fire service towards a future where no names are added to the Memorial. The fire service extends its thanks and gratitude to these members for their continued support and leadership on behalf of our nation’s fire and emergency services.”
Commencing the ceremony, Senator Tom Carper presented the 119 American flags to Troy Markel and to Chief Keith Bryant. The flags were then transported to Emmitsburg, Maryland, and displayed at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Chapel until the annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service that was held on Sunday, October 6, 2019. On that day, the flags, along with a rose and a badge, were presented to the fire hero family members.
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