Our Fallen Heroes

The National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, MD, is undergoing expansion. In this article, Charles Werner pays tribute to firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice and explains how their memories may be preserved.


Oct. 4, 1998, marked the 17th annual Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service. The ceremony honored 89 career and volunteer firefighters from 32 states and the District of Columbia who died in the line of duty. The annual service is held on the grounds of the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD...


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Oct. 4, 1998, marked the 17th annual Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service. The ceremony honored 89 career and volunteer firefighters from 32 states and the District of Columbia who died in the line of duty. The annual service is held on the grounds of the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD, where the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial is located.

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Photo by Charles Werner
A Presidential Wreath was placed at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial during the 17th annual Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service as a national tribute to firefighters who died in service to their communities.

Perhaps the morning's chilly drizzle of rain was symbolic of a nation mourning the loss of its fire heroes. But the rain could neither dampen the spirits of families mourning loved ones nor firefighters honoring comrades who had lost their lives in the line of duty. About 70 honor guard units from across the country lined the walks as family members approached the public memorial. In the background, bagpipes were being played in tribute.

Honoring The Fallen And Those They Leave Behind

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation advises that firefighters die in the line of duty at an average of one every three days. During the memorial service, Firehouse® Magazine Contributing Editor Hal Bruno proclaimed, "When a firefighter dies in the line of duty, there are three things that must happen simultaneously. First, we must honor our fallen comrades and tell the world of the sacrifice they made. Equally important, we must support their families in their time of grief and do all that we can to help them face a new and uncertain future. And we must determine what went wrong so that we can take steps to prevent it from happening again. We must NEVER be complacent, NEVER accept the death of a firefighter is inevitable, even though we know that the work that they do is inherently dangerous and each year new names will be added to this memorial."

It is because of the sacrifices made by firefighters and their families, that I wish to focus attention on the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF). The foundation was created by Congress to lead a nationwide effort to remember America's fallen firefighters and their families. It serves the fire community by:

  • Sponsoring the annual memorial service weekend.
  • Helping survivors attend the weekend by providing lodging and meals and assisting with travel expenses when needed.
  • Providing a family peer support network from which they can receive emotional assistance from other fire service families.
  • Awarding scholarships to surviving spouses and children.
  • Assisting fire departments in dealing with families following tragic losses.
  • Creating a national park by expanding the official national memorial site in Emmitsburg to tell the fire service story and help promote greater fire and emergency safety.

A Survivor's Story

I had a chance to speak to families who had lost loved ones. I saw and heard their remarks of honor, joy and appreciation about the support that they received from the foundation, the fire community and other families. The voices of mothers, fathers, wives and children who had survived spoke loudly about what this memorial service weekend meant to them. It is a ceremony that every firefighter should attend to appreciate the memorial's significance and to honor fallen comrades.

While this service touched my heart as I was reminded of a friend who died in the line of duty, I cannot begin to feel the deepest emotions as told by the wife of FDNY Captain John J. Drennan, who died in the line of duty and was honored in 1995 at the memorial service. Here is Vina Drennan's heartbreaking story:

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