WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. (AP) - Inside his dress uniform hat, West
Killingly firefighter Bill Anclair keeps a photo of his friend,
fellow firefighter and neighbor, Richard Cusson.
It's just one of the ways he remembers the smiling, 30-year old
volunteer firefighter. Cusson died June 30 after he lost control of
his pickup and it hit a utility pole while racing to a lumberyard
fire.
Anclair thought a lot about Cusson as he sat in front of the
newly dedicated Connecticut State Firefighters Memorial Sunday.
"You can go to his grave, but this means a little bit more,"
Anclair said, looking at the picture pressed inside his hat. "You
can always talk to this rock."
The $300,000 stone-paneled memorial was unveiled Sunday at the
Connecticut Fire Academy after nearly 14 years of planning. A round
platform elevates a stone panel emblazoned with the picture of four
firefighters gripping a fire hose.
In front, a constant flame burns in memory of the nearly 400
Connecticut firefighters who have died in the line of duty since
1883. The memorial is encircled with eight benches, each inscribed
with the name of one of Connecticut's eight counties.
A brick walkway winds to the structure. The bricks are inscribed
with phrases written by loved ones. "In memory of Thomas
Fischer," one reads, while another says, "My dad, my hero."
By next year, the memorial committee hopes to have located the
names of all the firefighters who have died on the job since 1883,
and have the names inscribed on the memorial. More than 300 names
already have been identified, mainly through contacting individual
fire stations, memorial Chairman Ernest Herrick said. There
currently are no names on the memorial.
"You must view this future wall of names not only as a wall of
honor, but as a wall of support," Peter Carozza, chairman of the
state Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, said during the
dedication ceremony.
The completion of the memorial was long overdue, said many
people who attended the ceremony. Herrick had the idea 14 years
ago, but he said there was nowhere to put the memorial until the
fire academy was built. Fund-raising was slow, but picked up
slightly after Sept. 11, Herrick said.
More than half the final bill was paid for with private
donations. Gov. John G. Rowland committed $100,000 in state money
for the project, and the legislature pledged another $30,000 in
taxpayer funds.
Connecticut already has memorials for correction officers and
police officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. It
was due time for the firefighters, said Geoff Nielsen, a retired
Wethersfield firefighter and a member of the memorial committee.
"This is a landmark day," Nielsen said. "It's the most
important day for fire service in Connecticut."
"I don't think there is one person here who can't agree this is
long overdue," said Lt. Gov. M. Jodi Rell during her keynote
address. "Each of us has an obligation - a true obligation - to
remember these heroes."
As the black veil was lifted from the memorial, and bagpipers
released the melody of Amazing Grace into the sweltering summer
air, Donna Klucky, 51, couldn't hold back her tears.
Gripping a tissue in her hand and embracing family members
surrounding her, Klucky remembered her father, Russell Jones, who
died after fighting a fire with the Poquonnock Bridge Fire
Department in Groton on April 1, 1985.
Her husband, Andrew Klucky, 53, who also is a volunteer
firefighter, had his share of emotion as well. For him, the
ceremony triggered flashbacks of the night he brought Jones to the
hospital after he complained of chest pains.
"He was a fireman's fireman," he said. "He just loved helping
people - a true fireman."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press