The tolling of the bell called to order the 38th National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service on October 6, 2019, in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Thousands traveled from across the country and gathered under somber skies in a profound display of sympathy and support for the loved ones of the 119 firefighters who lost their lives in service to their communities.
The names of 92 firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2018 and 27 who died in previous years were officially added to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial, a 7-foot stone monument featuring a Maltese cross at its peak and an eternal flame at its base symbolizing the spirit of all firefighters – past, present, and future.
“Simply put, firefighters and their loved ones carry a unique burden, both physically and emotionally, in their commitment to support and care for others,” said Chief Dennis Compton, Past Chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Board of Directors. “And so today, as we honor 119 men and women who lost their lives, we also honor all of you who stood by your firefighter with compassion and courage.”
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 United States Capitol. They also were presented a red rose and a badge.
Several Administration officials, including United States Fire Administrator Chief Keith Bryant, FEMA Acting Administrator Peter Gaynor, and DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, also shared their thoughts on the sacrifices of firefighters and their families. Acting Secretary McAleenan read a letter from President Donald Trump expressing his deep gratitude to the brave men and women firefighters who face daily uncertainty and peril to keep citizens from harm and that the heroic legacy of our fallen firefighters “will forever be preserved in the hearts of the communities they helped to safeguard.”
Communities across the country also honored the fallen firefighters through two programs led by the Foundation. Over 200 buildings, landmarks, and fire departments across the country including One World Trade Center in New York City, the Miami Tower in Florida, and the Baltimore County Fire Department, were lit in red for Light the Night for Fallen Firefighters. And, in a powerful display of respect and support, hundreds of churches, fire departments, and community groups across the nation participated in Bells Across America for Fallen Firefighters by tolling their bells in honor of the fallen and their loved ones.
And in the same fashion the ceremony began, the service concluded with a toll of the bell in the traditional 5—5—5 signal of the fire service, to announce the ultimate sacrifices that had been made.
Memorial Weekend Events
The National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service is one part of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend, hosted by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF). Over the course of four days, the families of fallen firefighters and members of the fire service gather to honor their fallen firefighter.
Beginning on Thursday, October 3, 2019, returning families arrived to provide support for new families and gathered for a special dinner just for them. Returning families play a critical role in supporting and comforting new families throughout Memorial Weekend and beyond.
Families of the firefighters being honored this year began arriving on Friday, October 4th, and were welcomed during a special dinner. For the families, events included family registration, family activities, and orientation and a welcome dinner. Members of the fire service arrived in Emmitsburg and prepared for the tribute to our nation’s fallen firefighters.
Saturday, October 5th, focused on the families of fallen firefighters, beginning with a morning vigil in the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Chapel. Then the Fire Hero Families met in small groups based upon their relationship to the firefighter to learn about the services offered by the NFFF and to talk with others who understood their feelings. Saturday activities also included making 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 Dennis Compton, Past Chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Board of Directors, and U.S. Fire Administrator Chief Keith Bryant unveiled the bronze plaques with the names of the fallen firefighters. Carol Jones, the wife of Chief Louis Jones, shared poignant stories of her husband and offered reassurance to all those grieving. LeeAnn Koval, the wife of fallen Firefighter/EMT Jeffrey Alan Koval, explained the historical significance of the luminaries that were made earlier and then lit a symbolic one. Stephanie and Sam Borkin, the family of Lieutenant Rick Borkin, explained the tradition of the Remembrance Candle. Afterward, Stephanie, Sam, and a group of returning Fire Hero Families shared the light from the candle with the new families, symbolizing their connection.
The Making of Memorial Weekend
Much love, time, and dedication go into the production of the 38th National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend to ensure the families and loved ones of fallen firefighters feel support and cared for during their personal grief journeys.
Each year, over 2,500 volunteers come together to make it all happen. Some serve roles in the Honor Guard, Pipes and Drums, or as Flag Presenters. No matter the task, volunteers are dedicated to master their roles in the memorial service in a show of honor to the fallen and their loved ones.
“I’m proud to be associated with so many dedicated men and women who are devoted to making the National Memorial so special for our families,” said Troy Markel, NFFF Board Chairman. “To see so many different groups working in unison to make the Memorial Weekend so special for our families is truly inspirational.”
Other ways volunteers serve is by acting as a fire service family escort. Topeka Fire Department Battalion Chief, Ronald Rutherford, who has served as a fire service escort for over 12 years said about his experience, “Being a family escort is a humbling and rewarding experience. Showing a family that the fire service is truly a family is my primary goal. No matter in what capacity one serves the fire service, we are all a part of the firefighter family. Seeing my firefighter families come back to the memorial and be there for other firefighter families is one thing that keeps me coming back every year as a volunteer. It is an honor to be tasked with taking care of a family. I hope you get a chance to be a fire-service escort someday so you can see what I’m talking about.”
The National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend is only possible through the support of our corporate partners and individual donors who make a difference with their time and financial support.
- 2019 National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend Highlights
- 119 Fallen Firefighters Honored at the 38th National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service
- What Does It Take to Get Ready for the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend?
- 119 Fallen Firefighters to Be Honored at National Memorial on Sunday, October 6
- 6th Annual Congressional Flag Presentation Ceremony Honors 119
- Join Us for Light the Night for Fallen Firefighters 2019
- Watch the 2019 Flag Raising at the National Memorial