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LOOKING BACK ON THE 30TH NFFF MEMORIAL WEEKEND

Rhett and I have returned home safely, but far from “whole”. I can’t help but feel as if we left a “piece” of us on those sacred grounds in Emmitsburg, Md. That, plus we brought twice has much home with us.

I don’t know how you could do what we did and see what we’ve seen and not take something away from the experience.

I will carry the memories we’ve made there for the rest of my life. Emmitsburg, the NFFF, our fallen and their survivors will stay with me always. I WILL NOT FORGET .

I would guess that most members on the job don’t know how much or exactly what it is that the NFFF ( National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation ) does. These folks are AMAZING!

Their work is not just about the Memorial Weekend. This team is on the job 24/7, 365 days of the year. First, the foundation works diligently to prevent and reduce the number of  Line Of Duty Deaths.  When an LODD does occur, they provide invaluable assistance to the Department(s) involved. They provided unbelievable resources and support programs for the  survivors (the family). Of course they developed and maintain the Memorial and they help the survivors attend the weekend services (all expenses paid). The Foundation offers many support services for the survivors year round as well as during Memorial Weekend (family day sessions, Fire Service Survivor Network, quarterly newsletters and even a scholarship program ).

Learn more about the NFFF and their Mission by clicking HERE .

 “Our mission is to honor and remember America’s fallen fire heroes and to provide resources to assist their survivors in rebuilding their lives. ”

photo by Lt. Rhett Fleitz (FireCritic.com)

A lot of the focus is understandably on the survivors … the family. That’s why I say every member on the job should attend these services. (read my previous post “Where Will You Be?” )

Better yet, you should become involved!

I report for duty every day knowing that it could be my last. It’s a huge comfort for me to know that an organization such as the NFFF will be there for my family and in so many ways should I loose my life in the Line of Duty.

We don’t like to think about it, much less talk about it but we need to. I have a wife, 2 daughters, a grandson (The Buckaroo), brothers, sisters, mother and father and even a few friends. Who will be there for them? Not just in the days or months following a loss but for years after … throughout their lives?

photo by Lt. Rhett Fleitz (FireCritic.com)

We often talk about “taking care of our own” but the NFFF actually does!

One of the really cool things to see at the weekend was how many past survivors make the return trip. For them, they say; it’s easy. They know it’s where they need to be.

I had the honor of listening to several past survivors talk about returning to help the new survivors. “They” are the only ones who can truly understand what these folks are going through. Most explain how the support and services received from the NFFF made it possible for them to move forward with their lives. They further explain that now, it’s their “turn” or chance to do the same… to help a new survivor move forward.

I don’t think you’ll ever find better real life examples of  TRUE  BROTHERHOOD at any place other than the National Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial.

It’s not just the returning families either. Every volunteer on site this weekend (Honor Guard, Pipes and drums, Escourts, Command Staff, etc) was there out of honor and respect for the fallen. They were there for the survivors … doing their part and taking care of our own.

Again, I’ll briefly mention how amazing it was to see the logisitics of making this event even happen. The man power alone (volunteers) was overwhelming. Members of the Honor Guard came literally from all across the Country. We’re talking about 100′s of members. The Pipes and Drums are the same way and seem to continue growing each year. There are members “Escourts” assigned to the families from the moment they arrive. Transportation issues, food, lodging etc. It’s awe inspiring to see it all unfold without a glitch. STRONG WORK and WELL DONE to everyone involved in this years (the 30th annual) event.

As you most likely know, Rhett and I were there with Firefighter Netcast once again. Our job was a HUGE HONOR and humbling as well. As part of Fire Hero Radio, we had the priviledge of recording stories from the survivors. The families had the opportunity to sit down with us and talk about their lost loved ones… an “oral history” if you will.

They could talk about whatever they wanted. They needed (and we gave) very little direction. Sitting down in front of the mic seemed to be the hardest part because after they began talking, the stories poured out. WE LAUGHED AND CRIED! It was an honor for me to meet these folks and hear their stories first hand.

I will always remember every interview but some “stick out” more than others (for whatever reason). The Wheatley family was one of those interviews for me this year.

The Wheatleys are survivors of Fallen Firefighter Christopher Wheatley of Chicago’s Truck 2. That’s them pictured above left.

Video and coverage of this 2010 LODD from Dave Statter at Statter911.com

The Wheatleys are a great family. They spoke of how lucky they were to have had Christopher in their lives but I’d bet ya that he would argue the same about having a family such as his. This was one of those interviews where we both cried and laughed. Chris’ father didn’t want to participate. Chris’ mother and sister gave him no option. After he sat down, the stories began to flow. You could see the hurt but, even more so; the PRIDE in his  eyes as he spoke of his son.

photo from Chicagoareafire.com

They spoke of his younger years which molded the type of man Christopher grew up to be. About when Chris told them that he wanted to change course in collage and enroll in the Paramedic Program. He would later graduate at the top of his class. Something his father was very proud of seeing as how he (unlike every other member of that class) had no prior experience or background in Fire or EMS.

They talked of his years as a Paramedic on the mean streets of Chicago and of his bridge over to the Truck. The story evolved into  firehouse pranks, cooking, the comrodre and Brotherhood.

The talks soon moved toward his death and of how they knew it was for a greater reason. For them, looking back; it was almost as if it was meant to be (heaven needed another angel). You see, Chris had an attention for detail. He was killed on August 9, 2010 …8,9,10. After his death, the Chicago Fire Department received a new fire boat and named it The Christopher Wheatley. This boat was comissioned to be built 2years prior to Chris’ death in Wheatly, Ontario Canada. It seemed as though everything was in place and just as Chris would have wanted it.

Learn more about Chicago Fire Boat  The Christopher Wheatley by clicking HERE

When the interview was over, the family hugged us. I think it helped for whatever reason even if only in a small way.  The look on Christopher’s dad’s face had changed. I think that after the fact, he was glad his daughter insisted on his participation. That brings to mind part of a conversation from another interview / oral history where the word “closure” was mentioned.

 It’s not “CLOSURE” the survivors are looking for … they want to NEVER FORGET.

They want to remember and they want us to remember. They don’t want the name, memory or honor of their loved ones forgotten. Again, that’s a big part of what the NFFF and the Memorial do. They help to honor and REMEMBER our fallen. It’s hoped that in the future, these interviews (oral history) will be incopirated into the memorial. One day, when you locate Christopher Wheatley’s name; you may be able to press a button and listen to this interview…an “oral history” of Christopher in his family’s own words …what they wanted us to know and “remember” about Christopher. More than just a name chissled in stone … what a great MEMORIAL that would be!

Special THANKS to the NFFF, Dave Statter, Rhett Fleitz and John Mitchel for their work on this very special project!

photo from the NFFF site

So that was our work day on Saturday… crying and laughing all day and WORTH EVERY MOMENT.

Afterwards, we would attend the candle light Service…. we cried some more.

Again, there is something even beyond spiritual at these events …. I hope that you all get the chance to experience it some day.

Dave Statter made sure that all of your favorite Blogs and Web Sites had the link for live streaming video coverage of the weekend.

I hope you were able to tune in and watch. I’d love to hear your comments … no matter what site you watched from. Drop us a note using the “comment” section here, via Face Book or just send me a quick E-mail (linked at the top of the page under “contact”)

After the Candle Light service, we headed out for dinner with a small group of friends.

That’s one of the good things about the “pack” we run in … hard work is often rewarded with good food and GREAT conversations amoung friends.

Where else could a “Misfit” like me have the chance to break bread and discuss fire service issues with the likes of Chief Billy Goldfedder, Chief Ty Dickerson, Chief Tiger Schmittendorf, Dave Statter, Rhett Fleitz, Pete Piringer, Greg Guise and more?

I am fortunite enough to get to sit with this group ( and others ) often and each time I find myself more humbled. All the top issues of todays fire service being discussed by our top leaders and me sitting there soaking it all in … AWESOME!

There were serveal topics, “happenings” and new “buzz words” that I have been sworn to secrecy over. I dare not mention them for fear of facing the drop of Statter’s mighty hammer … Bahahahahhahahahaha.

For those of you wondering … YES, I took another “stache shot” with me and Chief Billy G.

The thing is … he cheats!

The photo op always catches me off gaurd. Plus, just before the shot, Chif Billy always combs his stache and then pulls in his bottom lip!

LOL .. who am I kidding? Chief Billy’s stache has mine beat hands down and I can’t think of a better man to loose to.

 

CLICK to watch this video staring Chief Billy Goldfedder … “How to Motivate a Rookie”

Rhett and I also have the opportunity to meet new friends while at these events. Some brand new, and others that we have only met through our sites, Face Book etc.

Pictured right is good friend and loyal Ironfiremen.com reader John Crist.

John and I met about a year ago on Face Book. His step son was planning to take the hiring test for my Department and was wondering about affordable, clean hotels. I told him  that his son was more than welcome to stay at my house. In the end, his son didn’t test but the offer I extended was more than enough to win John over as a friend and avid reader. It was good to get to meet John face to face.

This was another great “meet up”. The Brother to my right is Chief D. Wayne Garver. Chief Garver came up and introduced himself knowing I was from Roanoke. It turns out that the Chief also lived here in the Garden City section of town several years back… small world huh?

What’s he doing now? Ahhh he’s only the Fire Chief for Camp David. YEA …. THAT Camp David! WOW! Talk about a high profile position. What even cooler than that is the fact that the Chief presented me with a Challenge Coin. Yea … Presidential Seal, Camp David Challenge Coin! I wished we had be able to meet up afterwards over a few beers. He dropped some names of guys who are still around here in town. I bet I could have gotten some great fretting material  errrr stories.

Pictured with us is Chief Roseier from Howard County Md. Rhett and I have meet the Chief several times now and he always asks about one of the guys on the job here in “The Noke”. He and  Todd Releigh served together in Iraq (Camp Victory but in different capacities). Chief was 2nd in command of the base to which Todd was assigned as a firefighter. Being 2nd in command earned the Chief the title “Sheriff”.

Two GREAT guys whom it was an honor to meet! Thanks for the coin and conversation .. you guys stay safe and keep in touch. Here are a few more random pictures of friends and fans ….

Rhett and I had a good time and accomplished what we had set out to do … we worked on behalf of, honored and remembered our fallen Brothers and Sisters. It was a good trip. We are proud of our work and considered it an HONOR (Rhett even worked for the Foundation’s Social Media Team for a while while I was hired on at Team Statter).

We even managed to stay out of trouble …..ummmm …wellllll …errrrr …let me say it this way … we didn’t go to jail  LOL.

Statter had told us … “I don’t care what you two do … just don’t get caught doing it on campus”. The next thing I know, Executive Director Ron Siarnicki needed to talk to Rhett.

I was sweating bullets! It had something to do with security clearance. OMG ! What if Ron had found out that Rhett doesn’t really exist? See Statter videos HERE  and  HERE  for and explination.

Turns out “someone” (cough cough Rhett) had lost his ID badge.

A security breach of this magnitude obviously dictated the  Executive Director altering his schedule to return the badge. I mean what else could he possibly have to do on Memorial Weekend?

Needless to say, a nice “lecture” followed. I think Statter wet himself trying to hold back laughter.

In the end, everything worked out. The waether was beautiful and the services everything they should have been. It was standing room only but should have been packed. Start planning now to attend next year …. you wont be sorry. (usually the 1st or 2nd weekend in October)

Rhett has a good post up on the event along with links to hundreds of pictures.  View that post from Fire Critic HERE .

I’m back on duty today, working Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I’ll get another post up tonight or tomorrow … keep checking back. Also, don’t forget to “like” our Face Book Fan Page “Wooden Ladders and Iron Firemen Blog” . Also, “share”  “like” or “Recommend” this post and re-tweet us on Twitter. Thanks for reading … until I get back, Stay Safe and in House!

Captain Wines

 

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