EMMITSBURG, MD – Along with tears, there were smiles and hugs aplenty here.
Emotions run the gamut during the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend when families, friends and colleagues gather.
Thousands – the majority in Class A uniforms – paid tribute Sunday to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving their communities.
Mother Nature forced the National Fallen Firefighters' Memorial Service indoors for only the second time in 31 years. Officials who made the call Saturday morning said they wanted the families comfortable.
Volunteers worked literally ‘round the clock to move equipment and set up in nearby Mount St. Mary’s University.
The pipes and drums reverberated in the arena decorated with maroon and yellow mums and firefighter memorabilia.
In keeping with tradition, a firefighter rang a bell to signal the beginning of the service.
NFFF Chairman Dennis Compton pointed out that churches and fire companies throughout the country aren’t the only ones ringing a bell in honor of fallen firefighters.
“…On the other side of the world, bells rang in the fire station at Kadena Air Base in Japan. There, those who served alongside Derek Kozorosky, an airman and firefighter who died in February 2011, ran a bell in his memory and in honor of all firefighters who died in the line of dut who died in February 2011, ran a bell in his memory and in honor of all firefighters who died in the line of duty.”
Compton called the families heroes as they understood and supported their loved one’s calling to be part of the fire service.
USFA Administrator Ernest Mitchell told the crowd that the legacies of the 85 firefighters being honored will last forever.
Throughout the service, various officials read vignettes of those being remembered. They painted a picture of who the person was and how they lived.
“Christopher Peterson was a young man -- just 22 – when he died while responding to a call with the Ward Four Fire Protection District in Louisiana. He joined the fire department before graduating from high school as valedictorian of his class…” read Hope Janke.
Peterson also was a blood and plasma donor, and the local Red Cross had his number on speed dial.
“Capt. George Fisher was the patriarch of Sandy Bottom Vol. Fire and Rescue in North Carolina. Dedicated to the young men and women who showed interest in joining the department, he served as mentor and training instructor for the junior firefighters,” read Karen Tandy.
The late Hal Bruno also was remembered for his dedication to the families of fallen heroes and the NFFF where he served as chairman of the board.
“Hal was a fierce advocate for the passage and eventual enactment of legislation to provide benefits to survivors. His legacy will surely live on in their hearts and in ours for many years to come.” U.S. Congressman Steny H. Hoywer said in a letter.
Gladys Falkenhan, whose husband, Mark, was honored spoke highly of the poignant ceremony.
“It was beautiful, moving and very emotional,” she said.
Falkenhan was killed in a house fire in Maryland year.
“Mark lived and breathed the fire department,” she said smiling with pride. “In fact, we met each other through it. We met at an ice rescue training drill.”
She was an EMT, he was a firefighter. And, they connected.
Their 16-year-old son, Christian, wore his Class A uniform from Kingsville Vol. Fire Dept. Currently enrolled in Firefighter 1 class, he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Karen Cox said she was amazed by not only the ceremony but the people who offered support and comfort for her and her family.
When asked if she would talk about her husband, Stephen, she answered: “Oh, yes. I’m always wanting and willing to talk about him.”
Steve, 55, was taking his required physical fitness test for the South Davis Metro Fire Agency in Utah when he went down. It was determined he’d had a massive heart attack.
In addition to being a firefighter, he also was the fire marshal in the area.