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President honors fallen firefighters

Stephanie Long

(10/18) Hundreds of nation’s firefighters and their families gathered Oct. 7 along with President George Bush to honor 91 fallen firefighters from across the country at the 26th Annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend.

“We are here this afternoon for the same reason,” Bush said. “We’re here for the friends and neighbors who risked their lives to keep us safe. And we’re here for the colleagues who answered a call and did not come home. We’re here for the brave moms and dads who left behind families that now need our love and our support.”

Firefighters share a unique bond, Bush said, a bond that “is definitely a source of strength” and “ensures that no family will ever have to face it [tragedy] alone.”

That bond is also a reminder that the work of firefighters is a calling, not a job Bush continued.

“You know, it takes a special kind of person to be a firefighter. It begins with a different sense of direction,” the President said. “When an area becomes too dangerous for everybody else, you take it over. When others are looking for the exits, our firefighters are looking for the way in. When the frightened occupants of a burning building are rushing down the stairwell, our firefighters are going in the opposite direction–up the stairs, and towards the flames.”

For all fallen firefighters it should be said that they “are people who gave their lives in the line of duty” Bush said, rather than “lost their lives in the line of duty.”

The President reminded the colleagues of the fallen that they should carry on in their work and honor the memory of those who gave their lives, taking pride in the example the fallen have set. Lastly Bush also asked all Americans to thank firefighters and EMS workers for their service and “pray that we live lives worthy of the sacrifices made by those who names we add to this memorial today.”

Those names represented 91 firefighters from over 30 different states, 87 of which died in 2006, who came from different backgrounds and spanned the age-spectrum yet had one thing in common. As the Roll of Honor was read, Bush met the loved ones of each fallen firefighter and while many shed tears, the memorial service seemed to act as a catalyst for many, another step in the long journey towards healing.

Now those 91 names join the names of the more than 3,100 firefighters honored since the memorials establishment in 1981, forever leaving a mark on history.
Bush assured those in attendance the Hometown Heroes Act would be fully implemented, which ensures that public safety officers who suffer a fatal heart attack or stroke on duty are considered to have died in the line of duty, allowing family members to collect survivor benefits.

The President last attended the Annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service in 2001, shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks, which caused the deaths of 343 firefighters. Attendees of the service were able to view a new monument, “To Lift A Nation” which depicts the now-famous photo taken by Thomas E. Franklin of three firefighters raising the American flag at Ground Zero. The bronze monument, which stands 40 feet high and weighs more than 5,000 pounds, will be dedicated on November 5 at 10 a.m. at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Park.

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