EMMITSBURG, Md. – It was a bright, sunny unseasonably warm day Sunday, one perfect for any outdoor activity.
Yet, the most revered fire service event – the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial Service – was held indoors.
Thousands from across the country and beyond turned out nonetheless to honor 81 firefighters who paid the ultimate sacrifice. They included 73 killed in 2012 and eight from previous years.
Tears were wiped as the pipe and drum corps marched in behind the honor guard. Uniformed personnel and civilians climbed up bleachers to get a good seat above the ceremony below.
It was quite different about 16 hours earlier.
As the sunset Saturday evening, the families and colleagues stood silently at the national memorial honoring their heroes.
They were granted a two-hour visit to the site on the federal campus following the efforts of USFA Administrator Ernie Mitchell, FEMA Director Craig Fugate and Congressman Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
During that solemn, special visit, the Presidential wreath was placed.
The plaque that bears the fallen firefighters’ names was available at the hotel and at the memorial service for families to see and photograph. It can’t be mounted on the marble wall at the monument until campus re-opens.
Hoyer said the shutdown has caused many changes in the lives of Americans. He thanked everyone who played a role to make the visit possible.
He also said he understands what the closing means for the U.S. Fire Administration employees who keep the fire and rescue service abreast with training, data and technology.
Hoyer told the families that the sacrifices of their loved ones will never be forgotten.
Mark and Susan Haudenschild said they were moved by the ceremony.
“It was beautiful. It was so much more than I could have dreamed of,” Mrs. Haudenschild said as she clutched the flag she accepted on behalf of her son Mark, who was killed in a crash driving a tanker.
“Mark just loved the fire department,” she said, adding that he was serving as assistant engineer with Washington Township (Ind.) Fire Department when the crash occurred.
Mr. Haudenschild said he will never forget how he felt when the honor guards and bag pipers marched in, turned and saluted them. “We’ll never be able to tell them how much it meant…”