In a year of immense tragedy, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Weekend will move to a Washington, D.C. venue and host perhaps 100,000 attendees.
In a press conference at this week’s Firehouse Expo in Baltimore, NFFF Executive Director Ron Siarnicki said the one-time move from the headquarters in Emmitsburg, MD to the nation’s capital was necessary because of the 442 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2001, perhaps four times the average annual number.
The 344 Fire Department of New York City firefighters who perished in the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center September 11, 2001 along with 94 who died in other areas of the country and four from past years who have been added to the LODD list, have made the new location necessary.
The press conference also kicked off an ongoing effort at Firehouse Expo to "fill the boot" as NFFF looks to raise money for the cost of bringing family survivors to the October 4-6 event. Workers were walking the floor with boots asking for contributions from the exposition attendees who were expected to reach 15,000 by the end of the weekend.
The schedule for the weekend has also been established. Friday, October 4 is the family arrival day and welcome reception at each hotel. Saturday will include the opening session and group sessions for the families, dealing with the survivor needs.
Also on Saturday, the Red Helmet Motorcycle Ride will begin with a ceremony at the Pentagon and follow with a ride through Washington, D.C.
At 7 p.m., the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the grounds of Catholic University will be the site of a candlelight service.
Sunday will begin with a non-denominational prayer service at each family hotel. The Procession of Honor involving the many department honor guards that attend the memorial each year will march down Constitution Avenue at 11 a.m. to the MCI Center.
The MCI Center, the largest enclosed arena in the area, home to the D.C.
professional hockey and basketball franchises and capable of holding 20,000 people, will host the national tribute ceremony. It is expected streets surrounding the MCI Center will be lined with the more then 100,000 people who will view the ceremony on outdoor video screens.
Although a memorial to the dead, the weekend too is for the survivors. Hal Bruno, Chairman of the NFFF Board of Directors said, "we honor the dead by caring for the living." "This will be the greatest tribute every paid the fire service and we want the families to be proud," Bruno said.
Siarnicki has been working tirelessly to put this weekend together. On September 14, 2001, FEMA and FDNY asked the NFFF to come to New York and assist with the family survivor’s needs. That effort continues and now the weekend has come together and he is working to raise the more then $3 million needed to fund the event. "Our charge is to make sure every firefighter know that we have a grateful nation," he said.