EMMITSBURG, MD - Many tears were shed and hugs were commonplace here Sunday morning as thousands paid tribute to firefighters who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Despite the tough economic times, personnel from around the country traveled to Maryland to honor their fallen brothers and sisters, who were lauded during annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service.
The heroes came from tiny companies with just a few members, large metropolitan departments with thousands as well as wildland fire crews.
Some died of heart attacks, others trauma. Some were killed at fire scenes, while others met their fate responding to or returning from incidents. They were brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers. All were firefighters who died serving their communities.
Messages from the speakers to the families carried a common theme - their loved ones will not be forgotten.
There were few dry eyes in the crowd during the musical selections.
One by one, the names of the fallen heroes were called, and their pictures were shown on a large screen. Family members were escorted to receive a flag and rose from a fire department officer who offered a few words of comfort.
The expressions on the faces said it all.
Barbara MacDonald said it was a moving experience for her and her entire family. Her brother, Stephen L. Jones, of Barnstead Fire-Rescue in New Hampshire was recognized. He died in 2006.
"To know my brother was a part of this brotherhood means a lot. We had no idea," she said adding that they never understood his love for the fire department.
She now hopes her son will join a fire department. "This also brought to light for us what men and women do everyday."
In addition to the support received this weekend, she was very complimentary about the bonding and relationships that have developed with firefighters in New Hampshire.
Mark Klose said it was an honor to escort the family. "We developed a great relationship..."
Klose also is the coordinator of the NH LAST team which assists departments and families after a firefighter death.
Darnisha and April Crockett said the ceremony honoring their father was incredible. "We didn't know what to expect," said April. "Everyone has been so nice to us."
Their father, Terrance Dale Crockett, of Kansas City, Mo., Fire Dept., died after dousing hotspots at a fire on March 17, 2008. He was 48.
Donna Rich, who lost her son in the crash of a helicopter in California last year, was nearly speechless trying to describe what the ceremony meant. "The Sea of Blue was just breath-taking."
Bryan Rich, a firefighter with Grayback Forestry Inc., was killed along with fellow firefighters and pilots when the helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff.
His mother was impressed with the support of other family members and survivors.
Sharon Purdy is one of those people who came back to lend a shoulder to people who now find themselves in a daze or struggling to cope. "It will be 10 years this January since I lost Lee (her husband)," she said, adding that she still finds it difficult to sit through some parts of the memorial service.
"There are things that bring it all back, even now," she said.
Purdy, of Ohio, said she's happy to be part of the survivor team. "We want to create an environment where they can feel safe while their hearts begin to heal. I've cried with them, and laughed with them."
Paul Sumner, a retired Miami Beach firefighter received a rose and a flag for the family of Bret Kaneshiro, of Honolulu Fire Dept.
Sumner said it was an honor to stand in during the ceremony. The NFFF staff will send Kaneshiro's family the items.
While he never met the 37-year-old firefighter who died after responding to a call, but felt it was the right thing to do.
The first time he was a stand in, however, it was personal. In 2002, he accepted the rose and flag on behalf of Jimmy Amato's family. Amato was killed in Sept. 11, 2001 in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
"It's just a tremendous honor to be part of this," he added.