(Photo credit: National Fallen Firefighters Memorial, courtesy James Hamilton, Flickr Creative Commons)
In recent days we’ve heard about the many national monuments and memorials being blocked to public access by the federal government shutdown. Now we have to add another. Our local NPR station, WXXI, is reporting that more than 100 local firefighters from the Rochester, NY area will be among thousands barred from attending a scheduled annual ceremony honoring fallen firefighters. The location for the ceremony should have been the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland. However, the memorial lies on federal property, so the ceremony at that site has had to be cancelled. Firefighters from all over the country attend this event, scheduled this year for Sunday, October 6. This cancelation will be gut-wrenching for all for them, but particularly so for attendees from the Rochester area, as memories are still fresh of the deaths of the two West Webster volunteer firefighters, Mike Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka, who were shot and killed by a shooter while responding to a fire last Christmas Eve. (Fortunately the organizers have managed to move the ceremony at short notice to nearby Mount St. Mary’s University.)
Firefighters’ memorials have proliferated over recent decades, and of course the events of September 11, 2001 provided a further spur to memorialize these uncommonly brave men and women. Many states and cities now have their own memorials to firefighters, police, and emergency responders. The national memorial, the one at the center of this situation, is located on federal property at the National Fire Academy. Built in 1981, it includes an eternal flame, a 7-foot high stone cairn, and a bronze Maltese Cross. Plaques list the names of more than 3,500 firefighters around the country who have died in the line of duty since 1981. The memorial normally is open to the public and also visited by thousands of students attending the National Fire Academy and Emergency Management Institute on campus. The U.S. Fire Administration web site notes: “When a firefighter dies on duty, local fire officials notify the USFA. A notice of the death is immediately posted on the Memorial grounds, and the flags over the Memorial are flown at half-staff in honor of the fallen firefighter.” Fallen firefighters are typically honored at the annual memorial service. As this is the first annual memorial since the Christmas Eve shootings in New York state, Chiapperini and Kaczowka would have been so honored this weekend.
Firefighters Memorial, available at http://www.usfa.fema.gov/fireservice/firefighter_health_safety/firefighter-fatalities/memorial/index.shtm
Federal Shutdown Forcing Firefighters Ceremony to Move, WXXI News, Oct. 2, 2013, available at http://wxxinews.org/post/federal-shutdown-forcing-firefighters-ceremony-move
National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, available at http://www.firehero.org/