They gathered in Emmitsburg for a memorial service.
There was a pipe and drum band, singing and remembrance readings as hundreds of people gathered for the annual National Fallen Fire Fighters Memorial Service on Sunday. They were paying tribute to 80 fire fighters who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2011, and five who perished in previous years. Their names will be recorded on the Memorial plaque at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg. More than 3500 names are listed.
The ceremony was held at the Knott Arena at Mt. St. Mary's University instead of the National Fire Academy because rain was in the forecast.
Dennis Compton, Chairman of the Board of the National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation, told family members of the fallen that they too are heroes, just like the loved ones they lost. "You understood and supported their calling to fire fighting. You understood and supported their dedication to their department and what became their extended family. You understood and supported their commitment to serving their communities, whenever a call came, anytime day or night," he said.
One of the 80 fire fighters who lost his life last year was Mark G. Falkenhan, who was a member of the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Company in Baltimore County. He earned praise in a letter written by Congressman Steny Hoyer, which was read during the ceremony.
Despite the sorrow over the loss of a family member, the number of fire fighter deaths has been decreasing over the past eight years, according to Ron Siarnicki, the Executive Director of the National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation, thanks to a program called "Everyone Goes Home." "Through that, since 2004 until now, we've seen a 26% reduction in fire fighter fatalities in the country," he says. "For us, we will be there to serve the families of those fallen fire fighters, but the best way to do it is to reduce the deaths so the families never have to through the traumatic loss."
The Foundation provides many services to the families of the fallen, including scholarships for children, and someone to talk, even at 2:00 AM in the morning, Siarnicki says.
Part of the ceremony included a remembrance of former National Fallen Fire Fighters Board Chairman Hal Bruno, who died last year. He worked for ABC News, organizing its political coverage, and had a long association with the fire service. "During his service as chairman of the Foundation, Hal was a fierce advocate for the passage and eventual enactment of legislation to provide benefits to survivors," said a letter from Congressman Hoyer, which was read during the service. "His legacy will surely live on in their hearts and in ours for many years to come."
Each family which lost a fire fighter received a flag which flew over the US Capitol, a rose and a badge.