Firefighters from the Washington Fire Department (WFD) will participate in the 2019 National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) memorial weekend at the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Md., this weekend, Oct. 4-6.
Since 1981, the NFFF has been honoring firefighters who died in the line of duty in the previous year.
This will be the Washington Fire Department’s 13th consecutive year sending representatives to the event. Terry Sullentrup, who handles public relations for WFD, has attended each time.
After attending a firefighters conference in 2007 in Atlanta, Ga., Washington Fire Chief Bill Halmich decided local firefighters should participate in the memorial weekend.
“From that conference, the concern addressed was to make sure everyone comes home (from fighting fires),” Sullentrup said. “We felt the need to have the department in Washington participate in the program.”
This year, 119 firefighters will be honored. Since 1981, there have been 4,374 tributes.
Families of fallen firefighters arrive on Friday and are greeted by other family members who return year after year, according to Sullentrup, who serves as a liaison.
Sullentrup said he feels the need to help the fallen firefighters families as well.
“Each year I go, it touches me because I’m an escort for fallen families,” he said. “They lost loved ones. There are plenty of reasons for how it happens, with 9/11 being the biggest loss to the firefighter family. It hits home that it can happen to anyone. It can happen to anyone, at any call, at any time.”
As an escort, duties include assisting the families throughout the weekend. There are activities held both Saturday and Sunday to honor the fallen firefighters.
On Saturday, there is a tour of the training center, a 100-plus motorcycle brigade and a candlelight ceremony after dinner. On Sunday, a memorial service takes place in the morning. Escorts walk families through a sea of blue, with firefighters lining both sides of the walkway as they enter the training center.
Fireman Scott Wehlage, in his sixth year of attendance, also will be representing Washington this weekend. Sullentrup said Wehlage will be a chapel guard and an usher. This will be Wehlage’s fifth year as an escort.
“There are a dozen different roles you take,” Sullentrup said. “Scott has been in the chapel for a number of years. I’ve participated in different roles and thought I could be an escort for a fallen family. I lost a daughter and have an understanding for what the families are going through. You can not fully understand how they feel, but I try.”
While members of the Washington Fire Department are in Maryland, locally, the department also show respect to the fallen firefighters and their families.
Light the Night for Fallen Firefighters will be held Saturday, Oct. 5. Anyone can participate by displaying a red light outside of their homes.
The WFD headquarters also will have red lighting.
There will be two events Sunday, Oct. 6. Since 2001, federal buildings are required to lower American flags to half-staff on Oct. 6 every year in observance of the National Fallen Firefighters memorial service. Sounding of the Sirens also will take place at noon, which will have the firehouse whistle sound in observance.
Local churches also are invited to ring bells for Bells Across America at 9 a.m. Bells will ring from coast to coast to honor fallen firefighters.
Since 2007, 36 members of the Washington Fire Department have attended the national memorial weekend in Emmitsburg.
“It has accomplished the goal of enhancing the department’s safety awareness while performing their assigned duties at an emergency,” said Sullentrup, noting no tax dollars have been spent on the program. The local community’s generosity and donations have helped the department participate in the event, he said.