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A Tribute to the Fallen and Their Survivors

2012 National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend Honors 85

2012 National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend

Despite grey skies and chilly drizzle, thousands of fire service members and returning survivors offered support and comfort to loved ones of the 85 firefighters who were honored during the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend.

In his remarks, Chief Dennis Compton, Chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) Board of Directors, spoke about the traditions, culture, and history that define the fire service.

"All of us in the fire service realize we are members of a greater family. And we understand the need to take care of each other's loved ones when tragedy strikes," he said. "And remember that the Foundation is resolute in our service to you-the survivors. We are here for you, at any time."

Chief Ernie Mitchell, United States Fire Administrator, spoke about the unparalleled commitment of firefighters to aid their communities at any time. "These courageous men and women put their lives on the line as they willingly stand between the dangers of fire and those threatened by it with purpose, vision, determination, perseverance, integrity, and courage."

As the names of each firefighter were read, family members were escorted forward to receive a flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol and the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. They also received a red rose and a specially designed badge. Special tribute readings to the fallen were also shared.

W. Craig Fugate, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, read a letter from President Barak Obama to the families. It said, in part, "Michelle and I want you to know that a grateful nation holds you in our hearts - not just today - but every day."

Video showed bells chiming from various locations around the country and at Kadena Air Force Base in Japan, where firefighter airman Derek Kozorosky, who was among those honored, died in February of 2011. Compton explained that the tribute was part of Bells Across America for Fallen Firefighters, a new tradition of the Memorial Weekend.

"Grateful citizens are pausing to honor their memory," he said to the survivors. "And at each of these events, they are also honoring you. For you are as much a hero as your firefighter."

For only the second time in the 31-year history of the Memorial Weekend, inclement weather forced the Sunday Memorial Service inside. Within less than 12 hours, the PNC Sports Complex at Mount Saint Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, was readied to receive the nearly 6,000 attendees.

Chief Compton thanked the university for its assistance in moving the service indoors on short notice. "The leadership of this university has always shown they understand the sacrifice made by our nation's firefighters. We could not have a better neighbor."

Due to the rain, video enabled the attendees to view Honor Guard laying the Presidential Wreath and unveiling the plaques bearing the names of the fallen at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. "From this day on, all who visit this Memorial will see the names of your firefighters," said Compton. "They will know that each name represents a loved family member, friend, and coworker who died while bravely serving their communities. They will think of you - the survivors."

Hal Bruno, Chairman Emeritus of the NFFF who died last November, was also honored. Chief Compton described Mr. Bruno's unwavering commitment to the Foundation's mission and emphasized that the staff and volunteers will continue to offer support to the survivors for as long as there is a need. A video montage of his life was shown while long-time friend, Michelle Lyn, sang Bruno's favorite hymn, "Precious Memories."

Following the Benediction by Father Thomas Mulcrone of the Chicago Fire Department, the Color Guard, Honor Guard, Pipers and Drummers slow and steady march to percussion created a melancholy rhythm. The timbre of bagpipes filled the room and gradually faded. The survivors filed out to begin a new phase of their lives knowing the NFFF will always be at their side.

Path to Healing

The Memorial Service was a culmination of a weekend designed for the loved ones of the fallen to help them find comfort and begin rebuilding their lives.

On Thursday afternoon, a wreath was laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery by Honor Guard members and survivors whose loved ones were honored in previous years. That evening a welcome reception was held for returning survivors who volunteer their time to connect with new survivor families.

"The Foundation matches survivors with similar experiences and circumstances, to help provide comfort and help with the healing of their tragic loss," said Chief Ronald Siarnicki, Executive Director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. "Because they have also traveled the long and difficult path, they have a unique understanding of what the new families are feeling."

On Friday, the new families arrived in nearby Gettysburg. During the Welcome Dinner, they were reminded that the mission of the Foundation is to honor and remember America's fallen fire heroes and to provide assistance to their survivors as they rebuild their lives. They learned about the events of Memorial Weekend and the many resources available to them through the NFFF, including grief counseling, scholarship opportunities, and children's bereavement camps.

On Saturday, the families were met by their Fire Service Escorts who guided them through the activities and offered comfort and assistance throughout the weekend. Group sessions gave family members a chance to meet and talk with other survivors who are traveling the same road they are as a spouse, parent, sibling, child, or co-worker of a fallen firefighter. Each session was tailored to help them through their loss.

During the day survivors made personalized luminarias for the Saturday night Candlelight Service and Memory Boxes to keep mementoes from the weekend. The Foundation also offered survivors an opportunity to share a story about their firefighter that will be part of the NFFF archives.

The day culminated in a Candlelight Service on the grounds of the Memorial. The evening was filled with music and allowed the families to reflect on cherished moments with their firefighter. The Remembrance Candle, which honors all those whose names are etched on the plaques surrounding the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial, was lit by survivors who had been honored in previous years. Then light from the candle was passed to all who were gathered to symbolize their new bond.