Frederick L. Riedel Jr. was only 5 when his 33-year-old father died while riding on the back of a fire truck in 1934 when it was struck by a police car.
With his own son, county Firefighter Frederick Riedell III, standing beside him yesterday at the dedication in Annapolis of a long-awaited memorial to fallen firefighters in Maryland, he recalled his mother's story about the night his father died.
"My mom remembered the red car coming to our house to tell us the news," said the retired captain in the Baltimore City Fire Department.
With three generations in the fire service, the Reidels understand the dangers of being a firefighter.
"This ceremony helps me have closure," Firefighter Reidel said. "It brings me closer to the grandfather I never knew.'
They were among a sea of uniformed firefighters, rescue workers and their families gathered near the triangular pocket park at Rowe Boulevard, Calvert and Bladen streets to honor the 376 Marylanders who've fallen in service since the mid 1800s. At least four were women.
High above the participants' heads, a giant American flag suspended between two ladder towers formed a patriotic archway. A gargantuan Maryland banner, strung beneath another ladder tower, provided a dramatic backdrop to the memorial, obscured for most of the event by white tarps. Two antique horse-drawn pumper wagons flanked the shrouded memorial.
At the memorial, visitors held up cell phone cameras to capture a name inscribed in the bronze tablets on the low walls near the five statues that form the locus of the memorial.
At 1 p.m. a solemn parade stepped off at Amos Garrett Boulevard, near Maryland Hall, and turned onto West Street, heading for the memorial. A color guard from Howard County led, its marchers carrying polished brass axes instead of rifles held stiffly against their chests.
Then they came: dozens and dozens of gleaming fire and rescue vehicles rumbled by. Interspersed with the trucks were a half-dozen bagpipe groups, several more color guards and the green-suited 103-year-old Westminster Municipal Band.
A truck from Bowley's Quarters bore a banner honoring two men who died fighting a blaze in 1971. Another truck, Engine 11 from Calvert County, simply propped a framed, faded photo of a young man on its front dash. The Forestville Volunteer Fire Department embellished the grill of its engine with armloads of blood-red roses; other trucks were draped in black bunting.
Engine 92 from Romancoke bore the legend, "We Still Make House Calls."
Battalion Chief James D. Howard of the Naval Academy fire department, who also is a volunteer firefighter in Deale, said he came out to honor one of our firefighters killed in the '60s.
"A lot of the families of the fallen firefighters are here and we're here to honor them, too," he said.
Sharon Pyle, a full-time fire department employee in Galesville, lost an uncle, Waters F. Tucker Sr., in 1976. Her husband and many family members are career or volunteer firefighters.
"This memorial has been a long time coming," she said. "It's necessary. It'll be the first thing people see when they come into the city. It's a fitting homage to career and volunteer firefighters and paramedics alike."
"Family members who come here today and in the future, will remember where they were when they got the call. But, they'll be very pleased their loved ones are being memorialized."
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, County Executive Janet Owens, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and other officials were on hand to dedicate the memorial.
Standing in a cluster of fire officials, Mayor Ellen O. Moyer called the memorial another great addition to the city.
"This will remind us of the dedication of people trained and willing to protect the rest of us. It's extraordinary what they were willing to do to help people in distress. I'm very proud our city is the site for this," she said.
Wendi Winters is a freelance writer living on the Broadneck Peninsula.