Emmitsburg, MD -- Thousands gathered here on the National Fire Academy campus for the 27th time to remember the lives of firefighters who have given their lives in the line of duty.
The National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service capped off the annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend, held by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the U.S. Fire Administration.
"This is a celebration of life, to honor those who have died," said Chief Dennis Compton, Chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Board of Directors. Compton took over the duties of calling yesterday's ceremony to order for Chairman-Emeritus Hal Bruno, who had to leave the weekend early due to illness.
A sea of dark blue uniforms and white gloved hands began the service with the presentation of colors. There were also musical selections and special readings. The event concluded with the release of a cadre of white doves.
Among this year's notable speakers was Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance Domingo Herraiz, who delivered some reassuring words about the state of the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program.
Herraiz said he had spent sleepless nights trying to ensure firefighters and their loved ones receive the help they need via the Hometown Heroes act and the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program. His statement that applications are now "being processed and approved unlike ever before" was met by applause from attendees. "I sleep a little better now," he said, promising that the improvements would continue.
Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer brought a message from President George W. Bush, who could not attend the event. Schafer told the families that they had the profound appreciation of the nation, and the president.
The most poignant part of the ceremony was the reading of the roll of honor. Family members -- some tearful, some stoic -- received a flag and a rose.
Kris Stautamoyer was there on behalf of his father, Indiana firefighter David Stautamoyer, who died in 2005 after responding to an EMS call.
"We went up as a family, Stautamoyer said. "This being the first year, taking it all in and experiencing it -- it definitely gets to the heart."
New Jersey firefighter Kathleen Timperio accepted the rose and flag on behalf of North Carolina firefighter Michael D. Stanfield.
"I feel that everybody should be represented," Temperio said. "You gave the ultimate sacrifice, you should be honored."
This year, the names of 101 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2007 were added to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. The names of nine firefighters who died in previous years were also added, bringing the total number of names that adorn the memorial's plaques to 3,200.
Thirty-four states experienced line of duty deaths in 2007. Six multiple fatality incidents accounted for 19 deaths. Four multiple fatality accidents occurred at structural fires, one during an explosion at a HAZMAT incident, and another in an apparatus crash en route to an emergency call. South Carolina suffered the greatest number of line of duty firefighter deaths in 2007, with 10.