Photos: Thousands Pay Tribute to Nation's Fallen Firefighters

May 6, 2024
The largest crowd ever attended the annual National Fallen Firefighters' Memorial Service in Emmitsburg on May 5.

EMMITSBURG, MD – Overwhelming, beautiful, powerful, emotional.

Those were just some of the words families of fallen firefighters used to describe the ceremony that honored their loved ones. 

Tears were wiped from faces as hundreds of pipers and drummers entered the PNC Arena at Mount St. Mary’s University Sunday morning to begin the annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service.

While rain forced the ceremony from the National Fire Academy campus, it didn’t deter thousands from turning out to pay their respects to 226 firefighters who gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving their communities.

Event organizers said it was the largest ceremony ever in Emmitsburg.

Among the firefighters recognized were 89 who died in 2023 and 137 who perished in previous years.

Some were volunteers, some paid-on-call and others were career firefighters. They served in large and small departments.

Lynne Pettit’s husband, Kenneth, was a captain with Allen-Clay Joint Fire District in Ohio.

The two attended two previous memorial weekends with others from his station to support others.

Little did she know that she would be back in a different capacity – as a survivor.

“After his chemotherapy treatments for pancreatic cancer, he would head to the station nearby to encourage the other firefighters to do their best and share his knowledge,” she said after the service.

Even as his health declined, he kept busy by keeping track of the firefighters’ certifications.

“He loved motorcycles, and we visited 49 states in 12 years. He loved life and lived everyday to the fullest,” she recalled fondly.

U.S. Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell said the service is held for one reason only—to show the families and co-workers of the firefighters that “our nation recognizes their sacrifice.”

In keeping with fire service tradition, she said firefighters will take care of their colleagues' families. 

Ansley Pasold and her sister, Bree Werner, said it was hard to describe how they felt after the tributes, the salutes, music and songs.

 “Wonderful,” Ansley said. “Just absolutely wonderful.”

Bree added: “We’ve been treated like royalty. Everyone has been so friendly and helpful…”

They, along with their brother, Grant Pasold and mother, Jan, traveled to Maryland from Hohenwald, TN for the service that honored their father, Darin D. Pasold.

A lieutenant with the Hohenwald Fire Department and a firefighter with the National Park Service, Pasold died of complications from COVID-19.

The family said they will always remember the kind gestures from everyone they met in the past few days.

Lt. Mario ‘Smiley’ Smith, a Vietnam veteran, was honored for his sacrifice while serving with the U.S. Virgin Islands Fire Service.

He succumbed to a severe lung injury after responding to three major fires.

His daughter, Moria, and grandsons, Romoi, Amoi and Cahmoi, said they were impressed by the ceremony.

“It’s been a great experience,” she said, adding that they all pitched in to create a luminaire in his honor.

“I was not aware about what to expect…It was nice, very nice..."

The weekend events were memorable for Melissa Schiemer, the widow of Tacoma Fire Engineer Robert ‘Bo’ Schiemer.

She mentioned that since her husband’s death due to cancer in 2023, she’s received tremendous support from his fellow firefighters as well as others who’ve lost loved ones.

In her husband’s memory, she promotes cancer prevention and the importance of getting physicals.

Unified Fire Authority, UT, Capt. Robin L. Pilcher spent 35 years in the fire service as a paramedic, deputy fire marshal and a member of Utah Task Force One.

As part of the task force team, he spent time at Ground Zero.

“He was never the same after he returned. He was coughing for months and months, And it got worse,” said Brandie Paterakis, his daughter.

Pilcher died of pancreatic cancer in 2016. He was 63.

Paterakis and her sisters were extremely moved by the service and pageantry.

“Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. We’ve been to three services and this one has been the best. We saw so much caring here. We loved how all the firefighters and families treated us like their family.”

Saturday was especially long and emotional after visiting the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial and attending the candlelight vigil.

“When we got back to our hotels, we got little gift bags with snacks and treats. That was so nice. It’s just what we needed. But, that’s not all. There were personalized letters from school children. We really appreciate what they did,” Brandie and her sister, Ashley, explained. "A lot of time, effort and thought went into it..."


About the Author

Susan Nicol | News Editor

Susan Nicol is the news editor for She is a life member and active with the Brunswick Volunteer Ambulance & Rescue Company, Oxford Fire Company and Brunswick Vol. Fire Co. Susie has been an EMT in Maryland since 1976. Susie is vice-president of the Frederick County Fire/Rescue Museum. She is on the executive committee of Frederick County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association. She also is part of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS) Region II EMS Council. Susie is a board member of the American Trauma Society, Maryland Division. Prior to joining the Firehouse team, she was a staff writer for The Frederick News-Post, covering fire, law enforcement, court and legislative issues. 

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