Need for firefighters’ memorial burns

If a firefighter in Cambridge, Mass. died in the line of duty today, like a lot of states there is a distinguished memorial to recognize his or her sacrifice.

When a Cambridge, Minn. firefighter died in the line of duty earlier this year during a May 23 training exercise, there was no such place to chisel his name to both properly and forever honor him.

Don’s Bakery has taken up the cause of the firefighter memorial and has a donation bin at their front counter.

There’s an effort afoot to  correct this, and it’s one that Elk River Fire Chief John Cunningham and his colleagues in the state Minnesota Fire Service Foundation are pushing.

Since 1881, 193 Minnesota firefighters have died in the line of duty. A small memorial has stood in a tucked-away location near the baggage claim at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for more than 20 years.

The Minnesota Fire Service Foundation is working to raise $600,000 by Dec. 31 in order to complete the memorial by National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend in October 2012.

The memorial would be much larger, more accessible and interactive, located on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol to give families, friends, co-workers and communities a permanent location to pay tribute to these men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

The campaign kicked off in July and put out a request to each of Minnesota’s 20,000 firefighters to donate to the cause. So far, the initiative has raised $575,000, but the end of the year is fast approaching.

Leaders of the campaign are proud of the way the firefighting community has stepped up to make the first contribution to this project, but the help of the general public will be needed to get this memorial built on hallowed ground.

And that’s the way it should be. The public can count on these brave men and women when an emergency hits their family. The grim reality is that they must put their lives on the line to protect and serve us.

Cunningham knows all too well the sacrifices of  a brotherhood he has come to call family. He knew long before heading to Ground Zero to work in the days after a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.

The audio of a recent Dec. 8 fire call and the subsequent chatter that he played that night at a ropes and knots training session served as a grim reminder for Cunnngham and his men.

The rear of a burning apartment building collapsed Thursday in Worcester, Mass., burying firefighter Jon Davies, a 17-year veteran of his fire department. He was found on the first floor of a triple decker apartment and was pronounced dead at a hospital.

The death rekindled memories of the Worcester cold storage fire that claimed six firefighters on Dec. 3, 1999.

“When these things happen it brings home fast how fast things can change,” Cunningham said. “No call is ever routine. You might think you’ve seen it a hundred times before, but the dynamics can change so rapidly.”

Minnesotan firefighters deserve a proper memorial when emergencies turn for the absolute worst and they die in the line of duty.

The Minnesota Fire Service Foundation’s memorial will allow the names of each of the state’s fallen firefighters to be inscribed on columns as part of the memorial, allowing loved ones to make keepsake name rubbings.

The plans also call for the memorial sculpture at the airport to be moved and incorporated into the  St. Paul memorial. Other design features include a bench for reflection.

I would think the friends, family, co-workers and community of Chip Imker, the Cambridge firefighter who died during a rope training exercise, would welcome the chance to honor him with a visit to St. Paul. He had only been with the department for 18 months when this father, son, brother, partner, soldier, private business owner, firefighter and coach died.

For more information on the proposed memorial or to donate, visit: www.mnfireservicefoundation.org or www.Facebook.com/MinnesotaFireService Foundation. — Jim Boyle, editor

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