Thousands Honor Fallen Firefighters at Memorial

EMMITSBURG, MD – The tolling of the bell atop the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Chapel marked the opening Sunday of the annual service to honor America’s heroes.

2011 National Firefighters Memorial Coverage

Stationed on a foreign base, the lack of a bell didn’t hamper soldiers from participating in Bells Across America. They banged on a fire extinguisher with a spanner wrench.

About 5,000 gathered under a brilliant sky for the 30th annual memorial service to honor 89 fallen heroes. They include 72 who died in 2010, and 17 who perished in other years.

This was the lowest number of firefighters recognized.

“The American firefighters we honor today exemplify everything that is right about America. It is right that we hold them up as role models for others to follow. It is right that we honor them here today,” said Acting U.S. Fire Administrator Glenn Gaines.

Gaines said families have lost love and affection. “They are left alone to ponder how the remainder of their lives might have been with loved one beside them.”

He vowed that the USFA will continue to educate firefighters about the dangers associated with the profession. “To the future fire service leaders, much is expected of you to lead efforts in reducing firefighter line-of-duty deaths and injuries…”

Gaines said he would love to see the day when people can celebrate a year when everyone came home.

Each family received a red rose and an American flag that has been flown over the U.S. Capitol. A fire officer spoke gently with the recipient about their loss, and saluted them.

Many returned to their seats in tears and hugged their flag.

Acting Deputy USFA Administrator Denis Onieal explained the history of ringing a bell in a 5-5-5 sequence. “Done for the purposed of notification, and as a sign of honor and respect, such symbolism has been a long-honored fire service tradition which still continues in some cities today…”

Onieal added: “…For those who have selflessly devoted their lives for the good of their communities and fellow citizens, the bell tolls their last alarm for they have gone home.”

Following the service, families and colleagues visited the memorial to see their loved one’s name on the plaque.

NFFF Executive Director Ron Siarnicki said he felt the weekend was outstanding. He said he received many compliments from families.