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Thriving Amidst “Public Expectations”

Grief in Progress​

Syri Harris and her future husband Walter met in elementary school. Years later, when Walter died in the line of duty fighting an intentionally set house fire in Detroit, his young wife and co-parent became a single mom of six boys overnight. As Syri dealt with this immeasurable tragedy, the resulting arson trial thrust her—and her children—directly into the public eye, shining an unwelcome spotlight on their very private pain. In Episode 4, Syri talks about how she moved beyond outsiders’ expectation for her to be the “ideal” firefighter widow—and closed her circle as the protective “mama bear” when being the perfect public face no longer served her. Syri shares how she and her family navigated the public and private aspects of their grief journey and honored the dreams they shared with Walter, even after he was gone.

America’s Tribute to Fallen Firefighters

America’s Tribute to Fallen Firefighters 2021

Watch America’s Tribute to Fallen Firefighters, hosted by CBS News Anchor Norah O’Donnell, recognizes heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty serving their communities and their country.

It’s Good to Be Back

2021 National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service

Following a year of reduced, postponed, and virtual events brought on by the COVID pandemic, the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend marked its 40th anniversary October 2-3 by returning to an in-person event in Emmitsburg, Maryland, honoring 215 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2020 and 2019 and in previous years.

An Open Letter to My Dad in Heaven, Who Has Missed Sixteen Years of My Life

Ryan Woitalewicz

Ryan is pursuing his Elementary Education Degree. He is hopeful to find a career that will make a difference in children’s lives. Successful completion of the coursework will lead Ryan to find a job and after a year or so, he plans to enroll in a master’s program in school administration and hopes to earn a doctorate degree.

Santa Claus Delivered

Santa Claus Delivered

By Mark Steffy, Son of Edward Steffy (2011-PA)

When I was young, one of the things I always looked forward to at Christmas was my father playing Santa Claus at various Christmas parties. He had his own Santa suit, filled it out quite well. Once I was old enough to realize it was my dad in that suit, it was neat to see other kids interact with him, knowing it was my dad.

After Dad passed away in November 2011, it was difficult to get into the Christmas spirit. As we were preparing for the holiday in 2012, my mom, daughter, and I found ourselves making a last-minute trip to Park City Mall in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on the Saturday before Christmas. As my daughter Gabi and I were going from store to store, she looked at me and said, “Dad, I never got to see Santa Claus.” We were rushing to finish and meet back up with Mom; I wasn’t sure we would have time. I explained to her that we were on a time schedule, but we would be passing through center court. If the line was short, we could stop and see him.

As luck would have it, when we arrived at Santa’s castle there was only one other child in line. As we waited our turn and the child in front finished and was leaving, Santa turned to Gabi and said, “Young lady, come over here. That organization on your shirt is my favorite charity.” We were both wearing our NFFF t-shirts. After my daughter gave Santa her list I asked Santa, “How do you know about the NFFF?” He paused and looked at my daughter, asked if he could break character for a moment, and introduced himself as Charles Brack from Allentown, Georgia.

Charles proceeded to tell me his story. His son, Steven Brack, was killed while responding to a fire in 2004 and was honored by the NFFF in 2005. We were in complete awe that someone actually understood where we were and helped us to move further along our path of healing. As we walked away to meet up with my mother, Gabi looked up at me and said, “It is nice to know someone gets it and understands what it is to lose someone.”

I make it a point to visit Santa Charles every year when we are at the mall. He delivered Christmas back to me!!