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The fire service is never short on issues that require our individual and collective time and attention. Throughout the year, fire service representatives work with various levels of government to address budgets, grant funding and other public safety legislation. At the same time, myriad additional challenges must be guided through the political process.
Leaders take these responsibilities very seriously, as they should, because they have so much impact on the capability of the fire service to meet critical missions and deliver service. However, on Oct. 6 and 7, these types of issues were set aside once again as members of the fire service and others gathered in Emmitsburg, MD, for the 2012 National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend.
Every October, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) sponsors the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend. Created by Congress, the NFFF mission is driven by the responsibility to honor and remember fallen firefighters and provide resources to assist their survivors in rebuilding their lives. The foundation carries out that mission with the help of outstanding partners and generous sponsors. I am proud and honored to serve as the chairman of the Board of Directors of the NFFF.
At the 2012 Memorial Weekend, 85 fallen firefighters and their loved ones were honored. This included 80 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2011 and five who died in previous years. There are three major components to the Memorial Weekend:
1. Family Day – This includes a series of activities for the participants. The family escorts, returning survivors from previous years and NFFF staff and volunteers play significant roles in making Family Day a success.
2. Candlelight Service – This takes place on Saturday evening at the site of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. It is the culmination of Family Day and is planned especially for the survivors.
3. Memorial Service – This culminates the weekend of events. It includes the participation of approximately 1,000 honor guard and pipe and drum corps members and features the formal reading of the names of the fallen and the presentation of flags, a unique badge and a fresh red rose to their loved ones.
Although the weather was beautiful for the Candlelight Service, rain was a factor for the Memorial Service, so the decision was made to move it inside. On one-day notice, the PNC Sports Complex at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg was prepared to receive the nearly 6,000 attendees. The leadership at the university has been a wonderful neighbor over the years and the indoor service turned out to be a special and respectful event.
Speakers included W. Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Chief Ernie Mitchell, administrator of the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). Administrator Fugate delivered a message from the President of the United States reminding everyone how grateful he and the nation are every day for the sacrifices made by our firefighters. Chief Mitchell spoke of firefighters as “courageous men and women who put their lives on the line as they willingly stand between the dangers of fire and those threatened by it with purpose, vision, determination, perseverance, integrity and courage.” In addition, the program included a tribute to Hal Bruno, chairman emeritus of the NFFF, who died in 2011.
Pausing for one weekend each year to honor those firefighters who gave their lives in the line of duty is the responsibility of the entire fire service. Honoring the sacrifices of their loved ones, friends and fellow firefighters is a critical part of that responsibility. The fire service always has more than enough important issues going on every day of the year. As previously said, they deserve the individual and collective attention of the fire service because they are important to our success. With that said, it’s also critical that the fire service takes care of our own. The National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend is an important part of doing that. n