Devotion Highlighted at National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service

Passion, legacies, and struggles among the fallen



By Bill Carey,

EMMITSBURG, Md. – The ringing of bells across the country started the 2019 National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service on Sunday morning in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Under an overcast and rainy sky former NFFF chairman Chief Dennis Compton welcomed the thousands in attendance, and viewing online, to the 38th annual service and shared how the bells and the earlier lighting of the night connected with the families and friends of the fallen.

“All of you here today are also heroes, “Compton said. “You understood firefighting wasn’t just a job; it was a passion.”

119 fallen firefighters were honored in several activities that began on Friday. 92 who died were from 2018. 27 others had died in previous years. Sunday’s service began with a presentation of color guard members, bagpipers, and drummers.

(NFFF photos)

Chief G. Keith Bryant, United States Fire Administrator welcomed the families to the memorial on the site of the National Emergency Training Center. “We are committed to paying tribute to the fallen,” he said, “We realize yours is the greater sacrifice and loss.”

Peter T. Gaynor, Deputy Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency invoked principles from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address highlighting the fallen firefighters being honored and their “last full measure of devotion.”

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan said that the lessons learned here from the sacrifices of the fallen lead to training in order to prevent other losses. Secretary McAleenan recognized those who died while fighting wildfires, pointing out the unique challenges ands risks wildland firefighters face.

McAleenan recalled the recent deadly wildfires in the West and that the changing wildland and urban interface environment continues to produce challenges that all firefighters are beginning to face.

McAleenan also noted the fallen members of the FDNY in the and the constant losses due to 9/11-related illnesses. 13 newly graduated probationary firefighters are carrying on the legacy of their fallen fathers as they begin their career.

As the rain came down, the names of all 119 were read aloud. Family members received a Congressional flag and special badge. Special readings about fallen firefighters and tribute songs served to make a personal connection for many in attendance.

Representative Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) spoke about legendary FDNY firefighter Ray Pfeifer. “He endured pain many would not see in a lifetime and did it with the utmost dignity,” Hoyer told the audience. Ray became the face of the fight to get federal help for those with cancer and other illnesses related to their rescue and recovery work at Ground Zero after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“His struggle informed the fire service to take every action necessary to fight cancer,” Hoyer noted with attention given to Ray’s work capturing the attention of Jon Stewart who joined the effort to lead Congress to approve the necessary funding.

Also among those noted to have fallen was FDNY Assistant Chief Ronald Spadafora. Chief Spadafora was a longtime Fire Engineering contributor and FDIC International presenter.

Chief Tonya Hoover, Superintendent of the National Fire Academy closed the service by explaining the traditional tolling of the bell and the meaning behind the 5-5-5 signal at the end of the reading of the names.

Chief Hoover said, “The bell tolls the last alarm, for they have gone home.”


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