Memorial Park would normally have filled with bagpipers, a motorcycle rally and grieving families Saturday in honor of fallen firefighters and paramedics who died in the line of duty. Instead, solemn songs and tributes for the annual Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial Remembrance echoed through computer screens.
Members of the International Association of Fire Fighters honored members of the union who died on the job, of a work-related illness or by suicide from Illinois, Florida, California, Canada’s British Columbia, Colorado Springs and elsewhere through song, prayer and ringing bells. The names of those who died will also be etched on the walls of the Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial in Colorado Springs.
The remote ceremony was intended to keep grieving co-workers and families safe during the coronavirus pandemic, while still paying tribute to their loved-ones, said Harold Schaitberger president of the union.
This year, the ceremony honored 245 firefighters and emergency medical workers from the U.S. and Canada, including 164 people who died in 2019, and 81 that died in earlier years who were honored for the first time. Honored union members included those killed by cancer caused by on-the-job exposure to toxins.
Schaitberger said those who died must be honored through action to reduce job-related risks and to encourage those with behavioral health challenges and post-traumatic stress disorder to seek help.
“With their memory in mind, we’ll get back to work bettering our profession because that’s how we pay our highest respect. That’s how we show that we will always remember them,” he said.
Association Chaplain Thomas Mulcrone also called on viewers to remember firefighters facing extraordinary circumstances this year, fighting extreme wildfires in California, facing civil arrest in their communities and working with patients who have COVID-19. The pandemic has killed 16 union members thus far, Schaitberger said.
“My God bless all those on the front lines,” Mulcrone said.
The families of those who were honored this year will be invited to attend next year’s ceremony expected to be held in person in Colorado Springs, said Doug Stern, association spokesman.
The virtual memorial can be viewed at iaff.org/fffm20.