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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"I stood as tall as I could that chilly October afternoon on my first trip to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1995. I had journeyed there to hear his name and to hear the words, 'On behalf of a grateful nation...' As I reached out to accept the flag that had been so lovingly folded, I heard his name announced with all the respect a name can be spoken. 'Captain John J. Drennan, New York City.' Later, I walked among the crowd that gathered around the memorial and my finger reached out and traced the brass letters that honor the memory of the brave man I've loved for so many years.

"That year, 107 names were spoken; 107 times the color guard rigidly and meticulously presented the tightly folded flag, 107 times 'On behalf of a grateful nation,' was repeated. And 107 families came, often accompanied by representatives from their fire departments, all bearing broken hearts, many clutching a photograph and needing to share a story of a life that ended all too suddenly and all too tragically.

"From all over America we gathered, journeying from Oregon and Arkansas, from Massachusetts and Indiana; a pilgrimage from all the parts of this nation, representing departments that serve our most rural communities to the departments that serve our biggest metropolitan cities. We came to hear the names and to run our finger across the letters that will always sit on a plaque that honors the heroism and sacrifice of a line of duty death while serving in our nation's fire service…

"Tragically, approximately 100 firefighters lose their lives in the line of duty fighting and responding to fires in America every year. It is only right that a grateful nation honors the heroes who so willingly give of themselves while serving the communities across this great nation. It is only right that the families and loved ones of the firefighter are given recognition and any support services they need in trying to deal with the impact of the death in their lives.

"The National Fallen Firefight-ers Memorial was built in Emmitsburg in 1981 as that tribute to this dedication. Each year, the names of deceased firefighters are added to the roll of honor plaques that surround the memorial. The memorial was designated in 1990 by Congress as the official national monument to all fire heroes who gave their lives in the line of duty. Thousands of visitors come each year to this beautiful place and pay their respects while reflecting on the enormity of the sacrifice. Sadly, the space that this beautiful memorial occupies has been filled and Congress has charged the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation to work with the National Park Service to expand the memorial.

"The design for the new memorial embodies a spirit of strength, hope and honor. At the center of the chosen site, pure-white concrete-shaped flames will rise 20 feet, reaching to the sky and covering 60 feet in length. Around the perimeter, the plaques, bearing all the names of the deceased firefighters will fan out, connected by brick walkways which will form the shape of a Maltese Cross. These thousands of bricks will comprise a 'Walk of Honor' listing the names that supporters of the national memorial want to honor.

"In New York City, we have undertaken a project that honors the lives of our lost members at the national memorial in Emmitsburg. The department pays tribute to those lives with an enormous plaque at FDNY Headquarters bearing bronze name plates identifying the member, rank and date of death. We have most recently become involved honoring each of those lives with a commemorative brick which will be laid in an FDNY section of the walk at the national memorial. Members, friends and families are sending a $100 contribution along with the name they want inscribed on the brick for the Walkway of Heroes. Of course the loved ones remembered are being honored, but we are not forgetting the ones that came before us.

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National Fallen Firefighters Foundation
The expanded National Fallen Firefighters Memorial, located at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD, will feature a "Walk of Honor" and flame sculpture.

"The memorial will always be a holy place for those of us who loved firefighters and the ideals for which they are willing to sacrifice. Perhaps most important, however, is what the National Firefighter Memorial will do with the money after the bricks are laid and the new addition is established. The foundation's goal is to offer the services necessary to help families whether it is scholarships or counseling so that they do not feel abandoned. In many places, support services are lacking and this will be an answer for those families that need support in these areas. What better way to honor a lost firefighter than to take care of the ones he loved.