Fire Politics: A Break From Politics

Oct. 21, 2011

The weather in Emmitsburg, MD, was threatening rain and high winds, but that was simply not to be. Almost like a miracle, it turned beautiful outside as the 30th Annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend took place Oct. 15-16 at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial on the grounds of the National Fire Academy.

There were no hidden agendas, no one-upmanship, no deals to be made and no jockeying for credit or placing of blame. This is an event that sets politics aside and brings the entire fire service community and supporters together to honor firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty and to pay tribute to the loved ones they left behind. Being present at the Memorial Weekend is very special, and the event attracts several thousand people in person and via satellite.

Congress created the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) to lead a nationwide effort to remember America’s fallen firefighters. A principal part of the mission of the NFFF is to honor and remember fallen firefighters and provide resources to assist their survivors in rebuilding their lives. It is an honor for me to serve as the chairman of the Board of Directors of the NFFF. Each October, the NFFF sponsors the official tribute to all firefighters who died in the line of duty during the previous year. The Foundation provides travel, lodging and meals for immediate survivors of fallen firefighters who are being honored.

The Memorial Weekend is built around three major components. These include Family Day on Saturday, the Candlelight Service Saturday evening and the Memorial Service on Sunday morning.

  • Family Day includes activities for the participants. The family escorts, returning survivors and NFFF staff and volunteers play significant roles in making Family Day a success.
  • The Candlelight Service takes place at the site of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. It is the culmination of Family Day and is planned especially for the survivors. The purpose is to remember loved ones and enjoy music in what is a tranquil and beautiful setting.
  • The Memorial Service culminates the weekend of events. This service includes the participation of approximately 1,000 honor guard and pipe and drum members, as well as conducting the formal reading of the names and the presentation of the flags.

During this year’s service, 89 fallen firefighters were honored. Of these, 72 lost their lives in the line of duty in 2010 and 17 others died in the line of duty in previous years. A new tradition was added this year to the Memorial Service. It was called “Bells Across America for Fallen Firefighters.” Fire departments throughout the country were asked to ring their bells at 10 A.M. eastern time and invite their local places of worship to participate. This will be part of the service each year.

Those making special remarks during the Memorial Service included Acting U.S. Fire Administrator Glenn A. Gaines and Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Fugate also read a letter from President Obama during his remarks. A Presidential Wreath was then placed at the site of the Memorial and the Memorial Plaques were unveiled. This was followed by the reading of the names and the presentation of the flags.

The NFFF works not only during the Memorial Weekend, but throughout the year in carrying out its mission. It supports the fire service and partners with organizations in various ways to achieve straightforward goals. These include:

  • Sponsoring the Memorial Weekend and helping survivors attend
  • Providing numerous support programs and events for survivors
  • Providing scholarships to fire service survivors to cover costs for education and job training
  • Assisting fire departments with line of duty deaths when requested
  • Working in cooperation with other fire service organizations to prevent line of duty deaths

If you have never attended the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend, I encourage you to do so. Every member of the American fire service should attend at least once, if not more frequently. Also, if you have the financial means, I encourage you to contribute to the NFFF by buying a brick on the walk of honor and/or making a direct contribution. There are other ways to contribute to the Foundation. All are outlined and can easily be accomplished at

It’s not often that a group can come together with a common purpose and accomplish it without politics impacting the outcomes. Yet, the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend is an example of this. A diverse group of attendees come to Emmitsburg once a year to honor our fallen firefighters and heal hearts, and it’s accomplished professionally and with a great deal of compassion and love. Thank you to all who touched this event in any way. You are greatly appreciated and should be proud of yourselves.

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