Fallen Firefighter Memorial Weekend Events Move off Campus

EMMITSBURG, Md. – It’s official – the annual National Fallen Firefighter Memorial Weekend activities are moving off campus.

Even if legislators reach a decision today, the candlelight vigil and the annual memorial service will not be held on the federal campus that houses the National Fire Academy.

“We just couldn’t wait. I had to make a decision. There are so many things that go into the move, and this time that’s compounded,” NFFF Executive Director Ron Siarnicki explained in a telephone interview this morning.

He also is hoping the survivors get the chance to see the memorial while they're here.

“We’ve asked that the families be allowed to get onto campus Saturday afternoon to at least see the memorial,” he said, “But, we don’t know if that will be possible.”

The candlelight vigil will be held Saturday evening at the Basilica while the memorial service will be in Knott Arena at Mount St. Mary’s University.

The cost of changing venues including meals, technical equipment, transportation and security may exceed $100,000, Siarnicki said.

A huge tent is being set up near the arena. “We’ll be serving the families lunch there Sunday after the memorial service,” he noted, adding that crews will be busy getting it ready.

Although established by Congress, the NFFF gets no federal money. The events and programs are funded through donations.

The ban from campus also has affected another annual tradition -- the Red Helmet Ride. Right now, plans call for the motorcyclists to travel from Frederick to the Gettysburg hotels where the families are staying.

Siarnicki said the outpouring of gestures from local fire and rescue departments has been phenomenal. The NFFF staff has relocated to the Emmitsburg ambulance company, while recruits from Anne Arundel County loaded office supplies into donated trucks from Howard County Fire and Rescue. The Vigilant Hose Company has offered to feed escorts, honor guards and others.

He added that many departments in Maryland and Pennsylvania have opened their bunk rooms to those who usually stay in the dorms. 

One theme has carried through over the past 10 days as officials went to their third contingency plan -- they want to make it a memorable occasion for the survivors.