EMMITSBURG, Md. – No one shouted or pushed aside the gates to get to the National Fallen Firefighters’ Memorial on Saturday afternoon. They were open.
The families and colleagues of fallen heroes relished the two-hour visit to the memorial where a plaque bearing the names of their loved ones will be placed.
“It was beautiful. We felt so honored to see it,” said Susan Haudenschild, whose son, Mark Hauenschild II was honored this past weekend.
The visit was allowed following the efforts of Congressman Steny Hoyer, D-Md., U.S. Fire Administrator Ernie Mitchell and FEMA Director Craig Fugate. Thousands applauded the men’s efforts during the annual memorial service Sunday morning.
During the brief ceremony at the memorial, the Presidential wreath was placed.
Mark Haudenschild described the experience as moving, and one that will remain with him forever. He said after seeing it, and how the honor guards showed their respects, he understands what the firefighter ‘family’ is all about.
His son, a firefighter in Washington Township, Ind., was operating a tanker when the water started moving which caused him to lose control. He was ejected as the vehicle rolled.
“We will never find the right words to describe how much we appreciate everything people have done for us. I know a lot of love and hard work went on behind the scenes to make this happen,” she added.
The couple says they may be back to help others who unfortunately wind up in the same empty predicament.
Sandoval County, NM Fire Chief James Maxon said the memorial weekend activities were memorable for him and his contingent.
“Having the opportunity for people to visit the memorial was awesome. It helps with the healing process,” he said.
Maxon and two of his firefighters accompanied the wife and daughter of his late chief, Jon Tibbetts, who was killed in a crash as he was headed to test new crews.
“This weekend shows how resilient the fire service is. We adapt as necessary. It certainly was a tribute to our fallen brothers and sisters,” Maxon said.
He remembered his friend and mentor: “He was a natural born leader. He was caring and compassionate.”
While he had been to the monument before while a student at the National Fire Academy, he wanted Tibbetts’ family to see it. “I was really happy to hear they would. It would have been so unreal if they had come all this way and not seen it.”
With the campus shut down, local departments and organizations stepped up to make sure the memorial service and related activities went on without a hitch.
The Daughters of Charity, next door neighbors of the National Fire Academy, allowed the command staff to set up operations in one of its wings. And, officials at nearby Mount St. Mary’s University once again hosted the service in its athletic complex.
Pam George said she was pleased when she read on Facebook that she would be allowed to see the memorial that will include her brother’s name.
Loren George, 25, died in 1991 while serving the Minot Rural Fire Department in North Dakota.
“I’m just so glad we all got to go in,” she said. “I had been so disappointed about being barred. Then, I saw we would go. I just can’t tell you what I felt looking at it…”