“Anyone who knows a firefighter understands that few of us in the fire service are comfortable with that word, hero. But whether we like it or not, firefighters are viewed as heroes by the public. I think that is because firefighters embody a unique blend of courage and compassion. When firefighters are called, it is often because someone else is having the worst day imaginable. Firefighters arrive ready to take control of the situation and provide service and comfort to complete strangers, expecting nothing in return.”
— Chief Dennis Compton, Immediate Past Chairman, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation
On October 3-6, 2019, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) held its 38th Annual Memorial Weekend to honor the nation’s firefighters who died in the line of duty. The national tribute, which included a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, family activities, a vigil, and a candlelight service, culminated with the public Memorial Service on Sunday at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg.
During the memorial weekend, the U.S. Fire Service honored the lives of 92 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2018 and 27 firefighters who died in the line of duty in previous years. Honoring 119 from 38 states and 1 territory, Sunday’s Memorial Service was estimated to draw nearly 5,000 people, including family members, fellow firefighters, friends, officials, and the public who gathered to honor the life, service, and ultimate sacrifice of these heroes. Other honorable guests presented included Kevin K. McAleenan, Acting Secretary, Department of Homeland Security; Peter T. Gaynor, Acting Administrator, FEMA; Chief G. Keith Bryant, U.S. Fire Administrator; the Honorable Don Briggs, Mayor of Emmitsburg; and Chief Dennis Compton, Immediate Past Chairman, NFFF. Congressman Steny Hoyer, NFFF Chairman Troy Markel, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, FEMA Acting Administrator Peter Gaynor, and the U.S. Fire Administrator Chief Keith Bryant placed the Presidential Wreath at the Memorial at the ceremony on Sunday.
McAleenan addressed the crowd of families, friends, and fellow firefighters, stating, “There’s no more honorable vocation in life than to serve to protect your neighbor, to step forward into harm’s way so that others may live. But that selfless service often comes at a great price, and we mourn those fallen firefighters, our heroes, who have given their all to protect their fellow Americans.”
Gaynor added, “It is our sacred duty that we honor our nation’s frontline first responders and their families for the sacrifices and their full measure of devotion. Seeing so many firefighters gather here for a powerful memorial, I am reminded how these very same firefighters assist our communities, states, and FEMA in responding to the nation’s worst disasters…It is therefore right and fitting to come together as a nation this weekend, embrace the families of these fallen firefighters, and remember those who paid the ultimate price in service to their communities. So, on this most significant day of remembrance for these firefighters and the families they leave behind, I join together with you to honor their dedication and sacrifice to community. I urge you to continue to wish all firefighters a safe return to their firehouses and their families at the end of each day.”
The tribute included several time-honored traditions important to firefighters and their families. For the eighth year, the memorial weekend incorporated Bells Across America for Fallen Firefighters. Numerous fire departments and places of worship across the nation joined the NFFF in this ceremony, ringing their bells in honor of those firefighters who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.
Additionally, Light the Night for Fallen Firefighters was also incorporated into the memorial weekend, as landmarks and fire service organizations nationwide were illuminated in red light in honor of all these brave men and women.
The public ceremony also included a traditional honor guard and bagpiper procession. The Pipes and Drums consisted of firefighters from across the country.
During Sunday’s ceremony, the names of the 92 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2018 and the 27 firefighters who died in the line of duty in previous years were read. The fallen firefighters’ families were presented with an American flag. These 119 flags previously flew over the U.S. Capitol and the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial before being meticulously folded and presented to the families.
A highlight of the weekend included the unveiling of the memorial plaques listing the names of the 2018 fallen heroes and those who died in previous years. McAleenan stated, “It is here that the names of more than 4,000 fallen firefighters are memorialized, etched into our nation’s history, and the lessons learned here from those sacrifices serve as the basis for the training to prevent another tragedy from happening.”
During Sunday’s ceremony, McAleenan shared a message from President Donald Trump. In his statement, the president shared, “I send my sincerest greetings to those gathered at the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) Memorial Service in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Across the United States, firefighters put their lives at risk each day to serve their fellow Americans. Melania and I join you in honoring these courageous men and women who face daily uncertainty and peril…My administration proudly stands by our nation’s firefighters, and we thank them for all they do to shelter our citizens from harm. May God bless them, and may He continue to bless the United States of America.”
Speaking on the significance of the weekend and the importance of the nation’s firefighters, McAleenan stated, “Our firefighters are critical to our homeland security, standing between us and danger, taking action when many others are frozen in fear.”
The Memorial Weekend concluded with the singing of “The Fallen and the Brave” by award-winning singer-songwriter Dave Carroll.
The Annual National Firefighters Memorial Weekend is intended to pay tribute to those lost in the line of duty, while also helping survivors in healing. Serving as the official national tribute to America’s fallen firefighters, this ceremony has become extremely important to families and their communities in acknowledging and honoring the lives of these heroes.
Troy Markel, chairman of the NFFF Board of Directors added, “As we gather together to honor and to pay tribute to our fallen firefighters’ selfless devotion to service, Memorial Weekend is a time for us as a nation and a fire service to pause and reflect on their sacrifice and to honor and grieve for the loss their families, friends, and fellow firefighters continue to endure.”
The NFFF was established by Congress in 1992. It remains the only national organization designated to honor all fallen firefighters and to offer support to their families. In his message, President Trump stated, “I commend the NFFF for its efforts to ensure that the loved ones of our fallen heroes receive the support they deserve. Today’s ceremony is a fitting tribute to the brave first responders who laid down their lives in the line of duty, fulfilling their oath to place service to others above self. Their heroic legacy will forever be preserved in the hearts of the communities they helped safeguard.”
The NFFF is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that relies on funding through private donations from caring individuals, organizations, corporations, and foundations.
If you’d like to donate to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, you can do so online or by mail. To find out how, visit www.firehero.org.
Candles are lit in remembrance of firefighters who died in the line of duty.