The annual National Fallen Firefighter Memorial Service sadly tells the story of those fallen heroes of the previous year. This event, which is so important to fire service family members, serves to honor our fallen comrades and to also give support to the loved ones left behind. This year's service takes place on Oct. 8, honoring 101 firefighters who died in the line of duty during 1999.
The accompanying excerpt is from the Sunday Bulletin of the October 1999 Chicago Fire Monthly Mass. This excerpt reveals the emotional feelings expressed by the Reverend Thomas Mulcrone, a Chicago Fire Department chaplain, on the most recent National Fallen Firefighter Memorial Service.
Let's Never Forget
After years of planning and participating in memorial services of all kinds, I am seldom overwhelmed. The death of one of our own is the exception. But I must share with you the experience I had when I attended the memorial services at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial.
Located on the grounds of the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD, the memorial is a moving and powerful tribute to the men and women of the fire service who have died in the line of duty.
Every year, during the first weekend of October, Besides these family members, hundreds of firefighters and paramedics from across the nation gather with these families to pay tribute to their fallen comrades. Moreover, family members - "survivors" - from previous years return to help support these families.
I cannot begin to tell you how moving and inspiring the weekend was, most especially the candlelight ceremony on Saturday night and flag ceremony on Sunday morning. It was evident by looking into the faces of the surviving family members what this weekend of tribute meant to them.
To be honest, though, what struck me the most was the "sea of blue" - the firefighters and paramedics, at least 600 of them, from every corner of this nation who came on their own time and at their own expense to pay tribute to the 95 men and women who were honored. They came from California, Washington, Maine, Florida and every point in between. They represented departments as large as New York and as small as the Marks, MS, Volunteer Fire Department. One small volunteer department had four members present. They had obviously thrown together whatever they could get to resemble a uniform. And yet, they stood shoulder to shoulder with the "big-city guys" and marched as tall and as proudly.
It was edifying to be part of such an experience. How I wish so many more could experience this weekend. I don't think I have ever felt more a part of the fire service as I did during those two days. It's easy to complain and moan (and I do my fair share) about how we are not a family anymore and that the fire department is going to the dogs. We lament the fact that some just don't care and have given up or that others have taken advantage of a good thing and used it to their benefit. We criticize those who are not like us and chastise those who do not fit in. And then something tragic and unforeseen happens and we put all that behind us because we realize what is really important.
The weekend reminded me of what is truly important - the countless men and women who gave their lives in the performance of their duties. It reminded me of the great tradition of the fire service, over 1 million strong who continue to stand together proudly.
Let's never forget those who have gone before us, and let us honor their memory by carrying on the proud tradition they emulated in life and solemnized in death.
The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation
Congress created the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation to lead efforts to remember America's fallen fire heroes and to help their survivors through difficult times. The Memorial Service is an important part of how the foundation carries out this legislative mandate, but there are many more programs.
When a firefighter dies in the line of duty, the foundation provides families and fire departments with a place to turn. Through the Survivor Support Network, families can receive emotional support for as long as they need it. The foundation matches survivors with similar experiences and circumstances. For example, they bring together spouses raising teenagers, widows who had very young children or were pregnant when they lost their husbands, or families who lost their firefighters close to a holiday.
Sometimes, simply talking with someone who has had a similar loss can offer a sense of hope. Recently, the foundation fostered the growth of an e-mail support network of widows who reach out to each other through cyberspace.
Fire chiefs can receive similar peer and professional support through the"Chief-to-Chief" Network. A chief who has "been there" will be available to help the "new" chief know what to expect. The foundation is developing a guidebook for chiefs on what to expect in the first days, weeks and months following a death or serious injury and where to get needed assistance.
"Taking Care of Our Own" is a training program to prepare departments to handle deaths and serious injuries. This one-day course covers pre-incident planning, survivor notification, family and coworker support, and benefits and resources available to survivors. It includes forms for emergency contact and benefits, extensive resources on fire service funerals, information on investigations, and a guide on how to help the family, compiled by families of fallen firefighters. Several fire chiefs report they have already implemented elements of the course into their department plans. This training is sponsored by a U.S. Department of Justice grant.
Under the foundation's leadership, the fire service will soon have a year-round National Memorial Park. It will include the national monument, a new Visitors Information Center, the historic Fallen Firefighters Chapel and memorial plazas - all joined by the "Walk of Honor." The first section of the brick walkway was unveiled in August 1999 with another section laid in late fall. A third section goes in this spring, bringing the total to nearly 1,500 bricks.
The Allstate Foundation made the first major corporate donation to begin development of the Information Center that will showcase mementos from Memorial Services and tributes to America's fire heroes. Educational displays will help visitors learn more about fire safety and the important role of firefighters in every community. Inside the Center, computers will help locate bricks on the "Walk of Honor."
AIG's Starr Foundation, Munich-American RiskPartners and Glatfelter Insurance Group have made substantial donations to assist in building the park. The National Volunteer Fire Council provided a donation in 1996 that helped support the necessary planning and development. State Farm has sponsored lodging and meals for families of fallen firefighters, making it possible for many to attend the memorial service.
Finally, the foundation has an impressive series of resources to help survivors and departments. A quarterly newsletter links survivors and provides access to needed information. A "Lending Library" can provide grief materials to help through difficult times. The foundation is compiling a state-by-state list of benefits for survivors. When completed, departments will know what's available for families and fire service leaders can see what gaps need to be filled.
For additional information visit the foundation's website at www.firehero.org or call 301-447-1365.