Fallen Firefighters Remembered at IAFF Memorial

A bell tolled for each of the 154 names added to the firefighting Wall of Honor on Saturday afternoon in Memorial Park.

Firefighters say it's a way to keep alive the memories of men and women who dedicated their lives to saving others.

"You can't let them fade away," said Houston fire engineer and operator Brian McWilliams, who came with a crew to the 26th Annual International Association of Fire Fighters Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial Observance to honor a senior captain from his department.

The annual rite drew firefighters and paramedics, and their families, from around the United States and Canada.

Others showed their respect by lining Pikes Peak Avenue as a procession of hundreds of motorcycles and firetrucks rolled to the ceremony, at the intersection of Hancock and Pikes Peak avenues.

Elizabeth Salamon drove to Colorado Springs with her firefighter husband and young daughter from South Elgin, Ill. They have come every year since 2004, she said, and it's a great way to honor those who have given their lives in the line of duty.

"A lot of his friends are on the wall," Salamon said. "It means a lot for him to participate."

While the ceremony brings tears, it also brings smiles as comrades remember their fallen friends, said Los Angeles City firefighter paramedic Robert Steinbacher.

It was the third ceremony he has attended. Last year, the name of his partner was added to the wall. This year, he made the trip to honor the father of a friend in the same department.

"It's a fraternity, its a family," he said. "I've spent a third of my life with them."

The sole Colorado firefighter added to the memorial wall this year was Pueblo fire Captain Richard Mark, a 21 year veteran of the department who succumbed to a work-related illness in 2009.

There are 2,754 names on the memorial now, which honors members of the firefighter union who died in the line of duty. The names of firefighters who died from occupational illnesses, such as cancer or heart problems, are included on the wall. The firefighters and paramedics honored this year died, or had their deaths reported to the union, from June 1, 2011, through June 1, 2012.

"Their spirit and dedication live on," said Jeremy Kroto, president of Colorado Springs Firefighters Local 5, whose members care for the Memorial grounds year round.

There are two Colorado Springs firefighters on the memorial: Lt. Don Hekkers, who died in 2004 from lung cancer, and Pamela Butler, who died in August 2010 from cancer.

"Even if we don't know the others, we all wear the same uniform and we all share the same bond," said Aurora firefighter Calvin Brown.

He said he tries to attend the memorial ceremony every year, offering respect and support to those who have lost someone.

"It's a way to give back," he said.

The ceremony started with ranks of flag bearers posting the colors. More than 240 pipers and drummers joined a single piper performing "Amazing Grace" as a wreath was presented.

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach told the crowd the city is proud to be home to the memorial.

"We know something about firefighters here," he said, adding that the city experienced the courage and skills first-hand as the Waldo Canyon fire burned into the city on June 26.

Copyright 2012 - The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service