Code 5-5-5-5: Honoring 105 Fallen Firefighters

I’m going to take a break from topics related to my work at Mano en Mano to talk about another non-profit that I’m involved with: the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.  Today, we honored 105 firefighters from across the United States who made the ultimate sacrifice.  In honoring them at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland, we commit to celebrating the heroic lives they lived, providing support for the families they’ve left behind, and remembering their sacrifice by doing everything we can to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

In a press release, the Foundation stated that: “Thirty-two states experienced line-of-duty deaths in 2009. Deaths resulted from vehicle accidents while en route to or returning from emergency calls, training incidents, building collapses, natural disaster response, being struck by objects (vehicles, trees, and gunshot wounds) at the incident scene, falls, heart attacks, helicopter/air tanker crashes, electrocution, and burns/smoke inhalation. Six multiple fatality incidents accounted for 13 deaths. Three multiple fatality incidents occurred at structural fires; two incidents resulted from an apparatus crash and an airtanker crash during a wildland fire, and one involved falls from an aerial device. New York had the Nation’s greatest number of line-of-duty firefighter deaths in 2009 with 8, followed by Pennsylvania with 6; and North Carolina and Texas both had 5.”

I’d like to pay particular respects to Firefighter/Paramedic Debra Cole of the South Portland Fire Department in Maine and Firefighter Paul Roberts of the Beverly Fire Department in Massachusetts.

This year was my fourth as a Family Escort which entails supporting the family of a fallen firefighter from the moment they arrive on the campus of the National Fire Academy to the moment they depart to return home and through two very special ceremonies: the Candlelight Vigil and the National Memorial Service where they receive a flag on behalf of a grateful nation.  It was my honor and privilege to serve as the escort for the family of Firefighter Roberts and I am humbled when thinking about the tremendous giving person he was and how much of him lives on through his family.

We all hope that next year we won’t have to hold a memorial service, but to date, 70 firefighters have already lost their lives in service to their communities so I know that I will be back next year, again, to support their families and honor their sacrifice.  At the same time, I’m encouraged to see that our numbers have been decreasing as firefighters constantly train to be as safe as we can be.  There’s one simple goal in mind: Everyone Goes Home.

Finally, I’ll explain the meaning of the title of this post: Code 5-5-5-5.  The fire service is rich in tradition and before telephones, computers, and 911, fire alarms were transmitted to a dispatch center via telegram from a fire alarm box and then relayed to firehouses using the same technology.  Depending on the type of situation, a bell in the firehouse would ring a certain number of times and firefighters would then have an idea of where they needed to go and what for.  While those days are gone (as are, at least by recommendation, the days of 10-codes), one code is still widely known throughout the fire service: 5-5-5-5.  The four 5s (a bell struck in four intervals of 5 rings each) signifies the last alarm of a firefighter; that he or she has returned to a higher station.  With that in mind, I’ll leave you with that signal for the 105 firefighters we honored today.


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