This past weekend I attended the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend in Emmitsburg, Md. This was my first trip to the Memorial Weekend and my first trip to the National Fire Academy as well.
My overall thoughts are that the Memorial is very touching, the Weekend is very honorable, and the staff and volunteers of the NFFF should be proud.
I traveled with John Mitchell (FireDaily.com and my partner with Firefighter Netcast) and with Willie Wines Jr. (IronFiremen.com although currently located here and all around Roadie and Key Grip for Firefighter Netcast). John and I have traveled a lot together this past year doing things for Firefighter Netcast. Willie has joined us at FRI in Chicago and the Memorial Weekend.
John and I were invited to record audio for the NFFF as well as produce a FireHero Radio podcast for the NFFF with host Dave Statter.
Our first night in town was on Friday. Dave Statter showed us around the NFA and Memorial. Everyone was setting up, practicing, and getting ready for the Vigil Saturday night and the Memorial Service Sunday.
I got a few minutes to check out the Memorial…This would be the first of many times during the weekend that my hair stood on end and tears welled up in my eyes. If you get the chance, you should make the trip. When you walk into the Memorial everything gets quiet. The calm that rushes over you makes it feel as if every one of those fallen brothers whose names appear in the Memorial are escorting you around. Your steps are lighter and the atmosphere is peaceful. It is truly Hallowed Ground.
Willie at the Controls! Yikes
That evening, John and I discussed our setup for the morning. We had dinner at Chubby’s BBQ (I recommend it)!
We turned in early that evening after Willie and I enjoyed a couple totties (Evan Williams and Mountain Dew…try it, you will like it!).
The following morning, John, Willie, and I set everything up. However, we were not prepared for what would come next…Our goal was to record audio accounts of Fallen Brothers and Sisters as told by their loved ones.
The 9/11 Memorial on the Grounds at NFA
This might seem like an easy task…it was not. I was not ready, nor was John or Willie. Sure, all of our equipment was set up. We were all set to record audio, and then our first survivors arrived. I will not say who it was or who the deceased was, but I assure you I already knew the story from posting it on FireCritic.com, reading it on another blog or web site.
When the family started telling their story, I was overwhelmed by a cold chill, my eyes once again welled up with tears, and I was frozen in time.
The realization that we would be listening, witnessing, and helping survivors tell their stories sunk in. Immediately following our first recording, all three of us spoke the same thing in very few words…”I am not sure I can do this all day”.
USFA Interim Administrator Glenn Gaines and John Mitchell
Obviously we were not going to just quit. However, the day progressed and families spoke of their loved ones. We made it through the day with some tears, some smiles, some laughter…and plenty of reflection.
It was our honor to help the families tell their stories. It was amazing at how we got to listen to them open up and tell us what kind of Man or Woman their Fallen Firefighter was.
For the most part, our recordings were for Fallen Firefighters honored this year. However, we did get to record audio from returning survivors who now volunteered. One whose son died on 9/11 (FDNY), and another whose husband died in 1982.
John Mitchell, Ron Siarnicki, and Rhett Fleitz
As I said before, we recorded a podcast for FireHero Radio (listen to it here). This included Ron Siarnicki – NFFF Executive Director, Mike Robertson – Military Firefighters Heritage Foundation President, Billy Goldfeder – NFFF Boardmember and Deputy Chief Loveland-Symmes FD (OH), Jaycie Ward – Singer of the NFFF anthem “Red Wagon”, Paul Hickey – Writer of the NFFF anthem “Red Wagon”, John McGrath – NFFF Memorial Weekend Incident Commander and Fire Chief of Raliegh FD (NC), Glenn Gaines – Acting U.S. Fire Administrator,and Philip C. Stittleburg – NFFF Boardmember and Chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council
John Mitchell, Billy Goldfeder, and Rhett Fleitz
John and I took the opportunity to have our photos taken with Ron and Billy. John also got a picture with Glenn Gaines.
On Sunday, we got to experience the Memorial Service. We saw most of it, however we did have to leave early to get John to a flight and Willie and I back home. I can still hear the Pipes and Drums playing in the back of my head.
The Memorial Service was very honorable.
The "Drill Sargeant" for lack of knowing his actual title.
One thing that stood out in my mind was when the Service started after a short prerecorded show on the big tv’s set up was that when the “Drill Sargaent” for the Honor Guards started ordering around the 4 battalions of Honor Guards everything went quiet as it should have. Yet the one thing I heard was the enormous flag elevated by two platform ladder trucks snapped in the wind. When I say snapped, I mean a thunderous roar. It caught my attention. The flag was almost straight out in the wind. You could not miss it. It was as if a huge wind was sent in at the perfect moment to capture everyone’s attention.
Click here for more the entire set of pictures