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On behalf of the American public, President Barack Obama expressed deepest sympathies to the survivors of 87 fallen firefighters during the 34th annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service on Sunday, October 4.
The President spoke of bravery and courage that is instinctive among all firefighters, who are willing to walk through fire to save a stranger’s life. “Those we honor today lived a fundamental principle that binds us as Americans: I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s keeper. That we look out for one another,” he said.
President Obama continued by reassuring the survivors that the American public stands with them in admiration for their firefighters and feels great sympathy for their loss. “To the families of the fallen, we know words alone can’t ease the pain of your loss. But perhaps it helps a little bit to know the American people stand with you in honoring your loved ones,” he said. “We hold you in our hearts, today and always. We offer you our deepest condolences, and our prayers and our gratitude.”
Following his remarks, the President unveiled the bronze plaque bearing the names of the 87 fallen. The plaque has been added to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial.
President Obama then greeted each family, offering a smile, a hug and compassion.
Survivors received an American flag that had been flown above the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial and the U.S. Capitol Dome. They were also presented a personalized badge bearing the name of their firefighter, and a red rose.
Relatives and friends of the 87 firefighters honored this year were welcomed by the Foundation during a special dinner on Friday, October 2. On Saturday morning, the survivors met in special groups based upon their relationship to the firefighter. They were able to learn about the services offered by the NFFF and talk with others who understand their feelings.
During the day they made luminaries, memory boxes, name rubbings from the plaque, and Christmas ornaments to honor and remember their firefighters. They also recorded memories of their loved ones through the Foundation’s Hero Tributes, which can be viewed here.
On Saturday evening, the families gathered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for the annual Candlelight Service. “Through music, quiet reflection, and fellowship, we will honor the memories of your loved ones – and we will also honor you,” explained Chief Dennis Compton, Chairman of the NFFF Board of Directors.
Tamie Rehak Vojtesak, wife of George Rehak who died in 2002, told the history of luminaries then lit a symbolic one. The tradition of the Remembrance Candle was explained by Gail Fowler, wife of Robert Fowler who died in 1997. She and a group of returning survivors shared the light from the candle with the new families, symbolizing their bond as fire service survivors.
Dave Carroll, a singer and song-writer and former volunteer firefighter from Nova Scotia, Canada, performed his song, “The Fallen and the Brave.” He wrote the song last year as a tribute to all fallen firefighters and their survivors.
On behalf of the entire fire service, U.S. Fire Administrator, Chief Ernie Mitchell offered condolences during his remarks at the Memorial Service on Sunday. “Of course there is sadness when we honor our fallen. We miss those that have left us,” he said. “But today, I pray for your peace and comfort and that you are able to celebrate their lives and service.”
He also thanked the many people who volunteer their time and talents to the Memorial Weekend.
As the weekend concluded, Chairman Compton thanked the Daughters of Charity and Mount St. Mary’s University for again providing space to hold both the Candlelight and Memorial Services. “They opened their hearts and their facilities to us. We could not have better neighbors,” he said.
Chief Compton also reminded the families and friends of the fallen that the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation would remain at their side to offer friendship, hope and support as their journeys continue.
To see photos and video of the weekend events, go to memorialweek.wpengine.com.
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