Gov't Shutdown Could Bar Families from Memorial

EMMITSBURG, MD – It’s not only Mother Nature that has organizers of the annual National Fallen Firefighter Memorial Service concerned this year. It’s Congress.

If the federal government shuts down, the service honoring America’s fallen heroes – set for Oct. 4-6 -- will not be held on campus.

With the possibility of the shutdown coming, staff has already been busy preparing a contingency plan like no other. This involves a lot more than simply moving the service to Mount St. Mary’s University where the ceremony was held last year.

A letter about the impact on the families is being sent to members of the Congressional Fire and Emergency Services Caucus, NFFF Executive Director Ron Siarnicki told volunteers during the final planning meeting Tuesday morning.

Siarnicki said he is hoping legislators may allow the ceremony to go on as planned even if the government closes.

If the campus is off-limits, the survivors will not be allowed to visit the memorial.

Being blocked from the federal campus would create a logistical nightmare for organizers. There would be no housing for honor guards, escorts, and others who help with the weekend. The cafeteria would be closed. 

Siarnicki said staff has reached out to caterers in case that happens.

Lou Raeder, who heads logistics for the memorial weekend,  said he’s been working on contingency and a contingency for that one.

“So many variables are involved,” he said, adding that one of the biggest issues is getting people to commit for something that may happen.”

Organizers have been in contact with officials at the Basilica as well as Mount St. Mary's. However, a festival is already set at the local university which will limit their availability for some functions.

Also, if the campus is closed, motorcyclists involved in the Red Helmet Ride will go to the hotels in Gettysburg where the families are staying.

It’s the organizers’ mission, they say, to make the ceremony special no matter where it’s held.