NFFF Memorial Weekend pays tribute to fallen firefighters
The names of 105 fallen firefighters were added this year; active duty military firefighters were included for the first time
By Ken Robinson
FireRescue1 Associate Editor
EMMITSBURG, Md. — Thousands of family and friends from around the country gathered this weekend to honor firefighters lost in the line of duty, as this year's memorial grew a little bigger to pay tribute to brothers and sisters previously unaccounted for.
Each year, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Weekend pays tribute to firefighters who died in the line of duty in the previous 12 months by adding their names to the national monument.
Surviving families who attend the event also have the chance to share their experiences and take part in support activities.
Among the 105 names added to the memorial this year are a newly recognized classification of firefighters — active duty military firefighters.
Chief Ron Siarnicki, Executive Director of the NFFF, says that including military firefighters serves to "correct an oversight" from back when the program was created.
"When the criteria was created in 1997 it did not include active duty military firefighters, but it did include Department of Defense firefighters," he said.
"It needed to be changed," he said. "They need to be recognized."
Daniella Santos, niece of fallen Cpl. Joseph Juliano, was grateful that her firefighter uncle could be formally recognized in the memorial.
Cpl. Juliano was based in Yuma, Ariz., when he died during training activities in 1998, Santos said.
She began thinking about him in the past few months, and after taking the personal initiative to research him, she learned about the Memorial Weekend and was able to help them add Cpl. Juliano's information to the list of fallen firefighters.
The weekend was a valuable experience for eight of her family members who attended, including Cpl. Juliano's mother and sister.
"It's something I can't even describe. It was amazing," Santos said.
"Everyone was so nice. I've never been surrounded by so many people who cared and were willing to help with anything you needed."
"I'm hopefully going back next year and volunteering."
This year's memorial also marked new levels of accessibility, with satellite, cable and Web broadcasts expanding the outreach and visibility of the program, which spans the globe.
"Twenty-seven different countries logged in last year to watch the service," Chief Siarnicki said. "Many of those people may be military firefighters who want to pay service to their fallen brothers."
Speakers at Sunday's memorial event included Acting U.S. Fire Administrator Chief Glenn Gaines.
"We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of loved ones and friends of our fallen fire fighters we will not forget their sacrifice," he told the crowd.
Paying tribute to fallen firefighters, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugute said, "Firefighters are among the first to call to any emergency and it's a call they selflessly rush to meet."