In honor of National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend, we asked Arlington Fire Chief James Schwartz to write a guest column.
This weekend, the nation’s fire service will honor those firefighters who died in the line of duty during 2009. The names of 80 fire fighters who lost their lives in service to their communities will be added to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in an annual ceremony at Emmitsburg, Maryland. The names of 25 firefighters who died in previous years will also be added. The plaques surrounding the Memorial, which was established in 1981, contain the names of more than 3,400 fire fighters. Firefighters and fire department honor guards from across the country will gather to pay tribute to the lives of their fallen comrades.
Unfortunately, firefighting remains a dangerous profession. Despite a reduction in the number of fires nationally, effective fire and rescue operations require firefighters to be in harm’s way. Firefighters are frequently exposed to high temperatures and toxic products of combustion and they work around heavy, fast moving objects, all while wearing protective gear and equipment that weighs in excess of 60 pounds. Rates of cancer and heart disease are higher among firefighters.
Firefighters accept a measure of risk when they take the job, understanding that the ultimate sacrifice may be required to save the life of another under extreme circumstances. They do not accept this risk cavalierly. As a whole, the fire service continues to work tirelessly toward improvements that will reduce the number of firefighter injuries and fatalities.
Arlington County Fire Department has been fortunate; we have not suffered a line of duty death since 1982 when Firefighter Mike Miller lost his life. Before the loss of Firefighter Miller, the department lost two captains in separate incidents. On October 19, 1964 Captain Archie Hughes was lost after becoming trapped in the flashover of an attic fire. Captain Charles Theodore died of smoke inhalation while fighting a fire on June 24, 1961. In a ceremony earlier this year, the department retired their badges.
Jim Schwartz, Chief
Arlington County Fire Department