EMMITSBURG, Md.-- For the sixth consecutive year, Jo Ann and Gerry Gettman traveled here from Lakeport, Calif. in hopes of helping others grieve with their loss.
The couple attended their first National Fallen Firefighters Memorial shortly after they lost their youngest son, Matthew Eric Black, in a wild land fire just outside of Lakeport.
"The first year you come so grief-stricken you don't remember much of it," Jo Ann Gettman said. "But when you come back as a survivor the second year you see everything real clear.
"Now we come back and see the whole picture and what's being done. It means so much more."
Gerry Gettman shared similar sentiments in regards to the event. "The first year you're walking around either lost, numb or in daze," he said. "That part is telling them (the family members) that 'I don't want to do this again.' There's another part that is saying 'I have to' in honor of who they lost. That's the emotional part."
A Long Tradition
The Oct. 8 ceremony marked the memorial's 25th anniversary. Recently, the memorial has continued its growth with a newly constructed memorial park and renovated chapel.
Executive Director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, Ronald Siarnicki, said the foundation's mission has remained unchanged, with the main objective being the reduction of line of duty deaths.
"We continue to work with the emphasis that ‘everyone goes home.' The foundation is committed to do that and has garnished the support to make that happen," he said. "We are going to continue to push to insure that we can in fact make every firefighter safer."
This year's attendance at the memorial topped out around 7,000 as firefighters, friends and family members from across the country paid tribute to the 100 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2005 and the seven other names that were added to the memorial this year.
Interim United States Fire Administrator Charlie Dickerson expressed the importance of the day for those who work at the National Fire Academy, where the memorial is located.
"I can tell you that the best days that we have here, the very best days, are when the flags are up. Because when the flags are up, America's fire service is having a great day," he said. "However, because we do work here … we know when those flags go to half mast; it's because one of your loved ones stepped forward to sacrifice the most precious thing that there is to give: their life.
"During that time, we reflect: What are we doing to make a difference? What are we doing collectively, all of us, America's Fire Service, in hopes that these crowds, this recognition will begin to grow smaller."
Coping with Loss
Much like the Gettmans did in 1999, many of those in attendance for the first time sought a sense of closure and comfort from others who had been through the same thing.
The often somber ceremony was highlighted by heartfelt speeches, touching songs and emotional exchanges as family remembers were greeted at the memorial as their firefighter's name was read. This year, in addition to the flag previously flown over the U.S. Capitol and the long-stemmed rose given to families, a commemorative badge inscribed with the firefighter's name was given.
DHS Under Secretary of Preparedness George Foresman, reminded everyone that the courage of the men and women who have died in the fire services will not be forgotten. Foresman was speaking in place of FEMA Director David Paulison, who was unable to attend due to an illness in his wife's family,
"These men and women reminded each of us that when a fire breaks out, or when rescue or emergency medical services are needed, it is the men and women of America's fire service that are the first ones who are called and the first ones to assist America's citizens," he said.