EMMITSBURG, Md. -- The families, friends and co-workers of 105 firefighters who gave the ultimate sacrifice were remembered Sunday during the annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service.
For the first time, members of the military who died while performing firefighting duties were honored as well.
The ceremony -- held under a brilliant cloudless sky -- was rich in firefighter traditions. Two gigantic flags -- each hanging from two aerial apparatus -- provided the perfect setting.
The crowd of several thousand was filled with hundreds of firefighters, the majority dressed in Class A uniforms as well as U.S. Marines and Air Force.
The heroes included fire service veterans as well as rookies just getting started.
FEMA Director Craig Fugate offered words of comfort to the families in addition to reading a message from President Barak Obama.
"We are awed by their service. We are humbled by their sacrifice. And this weekend, as bagpipes play, and bells ring, we honor their legacy -- a legacy that inspires all Americans. And their legacy will endure, not only in the words we speak or the memories we cherish, but in buildings that have been protected, in neighborhoods that have been made safe, in lives that were not cut short, but allowed to flourish and find fulfillment.
“Our nation was built on a legacy such as this, on the same fierce dedication, the same sense of sacrifice, the same commitment to one another that led these men and women, your loved ones, to become firefighters in the first place; to lay down their lives on our behalf," Obama said in a prepared statement.
Acting U.S. Fire Administrator Glenn Gaines said the entire fire service family shares the sorrow and pain.
He told them that their heroes' sacrifices will never be forgotten.
He also vowed that the USFA will continue to work on new strategies to reduce the number of firefighters killed and injured in the line of duty.
Just days before the annual memorial service, the USFA announced the lowest number of on duty deaths in 30 years occurred in 2009.
When the name of their firefighter was announced, the family came forward to receive a flag and a rose. They were escorted by a firefighter.
The military families also were escorted by a member of their respective branch. The military firefighters included on the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial were U.S. Marines and U.S. Air Force.
The traditional ringing of 5-5-5 brought tears.
Afterward, loved ones waited for a turn to see the new plaque.