National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Gets Real Home

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation now has something it's never enjoyed before -- a permanent home.

And, it's not your ordinary office either. The staff that supports the nation's fallen heroes is now working in the historic chapel on the campus of the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg.

For the past 18 months, the NFFF employees have worked side-by-side in a double-wide trailer with no restroom. Breezy February days, they say, will long be remembered. Despite the conditions, their work to help the families of the fallen heroes never waned, said Ron Siarnicki, executive director.

For their tough stance, they received a standing ovation Tuesday from the fire service officials and local residents who gathered to celebrate the $1 million renovation of the historic chapel.

The NFFF Memorial Chapel, constructed in 1839, also was rededicated to the late Marvin Gibbons, a Maryland fire leader who helped establish the annual memorial service.

USFA Acting Director Charlie Dickinson referred to the chapel as "the pure gem of our campus."

The new, bright offices are tucked behind the marble walls on the sides of the altar. The choir loft now features a large conference table, and the computer work stations are accented by stained glass windows. "We want people who are here on campus to come in here to reflect or work," Siarnicki said. "The chapel is open to everyone."

The chapel has been painted, and new carpet installed. There also are enhanced restrooms and elevators.

The executive director said he appreciated the guidance and prayers from the Daughters of Charity, the former owners.

Sister Betty Ann McNeil said it was a blessing that the USFA and NFFF took over the campus in 1979, as they have continued the "labor of love" established by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in the 1800s.

The nun explained the history of the chapel pointing to various features. The bell that hangs in the steeple came from Spain in 1841 was named Joseph. The campus was formerly St. Joseph's College, one of the first Catholic colleges for women. It closed in 1973.

Sister McNeil said their has always been a special relationship with the local community, especially the local fire company in Emmitsburg. She recalled how they helped save the campus from being destroyed by fire. The blaze on May 20, 1885, started in the west wing of the dining hall.

Also during the ceremony, the crowd applauded the contractors, S&W Construction, for their work.

Siarnicki said the project would not have been as successful without people who stepped up to the plate. Lowe's donated $150,000; Road Sprinklers Fitters Local 669 installed the sprinkler for free; Otis provided the elevators at cost; Chesapeake Fire Sprinkler Assn., donated items and Mary Ann Gibbons, tiles.

NFFF Board of Directors Chairman Hal Bruno said the new home will offer people a place to gather to find peace and serenity.