Elk River’s fire chief commanded honor guard at dedication
by Joni Astrup
When a new memorial to Minnesota’s fallen firefighters was dedicated Sunday, Sept. 30, Elk River Fire Chief T. John Cunningham played a role in the ceremony.
He was the honor guard commander and issued the orders to the honor guard at the event.
The memorial outside the State Capitol in St. Paul pays tribute to the 207 fallen firefighters who have died in the line of duty since 1881.
Cunningham said the dedication was a moving experience.
“It was emotional, I think, for every single person that was in attendance,” he said.
Several thousand people attended the ceremony, including Gov. Mark Dayton and about 700 firefighters. Besides Cunningham, Elk River firefighters Phil Collins, Mark Lees and Mike Crepeau also attended, as did representatives from other area fire departments including Rogers.
Many relatives of the fallen firefighters were there as well, and each family was presented with a rose and a flag that had flown over the State Capitol.
Cunningham has been involved in the firefighter memorial project and was on the planning team for the dedication ceremony. Hundreds of people worked behind the scenes to make the event happen, he said.
The memorial was done by firefighters for firefighters, he said, and a majority of the cost of the memorial was paid for by fire service personnel. Donations are still being accepted. They may be sent to Minnesota Fire Service Foundation, c/o Flagship Bank, 7525 Office Ridge Circle, Eden Prairie, Minn. 55344-3644.
Cunningham, a native of Connecticut, said he has attended a lot of funerals for firefighters who died in the line of duty. The first one involved six firefighters from Worcester, Mass., who were killed in a warehouse fire in 1999.
Cunningham said the new memorial is an important tribute to Minnesota’s fallen firefighters.
“This is letting the families know that we care and that their loved ones will never be forgotten,” he said. “The sacrifices that emergency personnel make change lives. For many of these families they never got a chance to say goodbye. Now there’s a permanent fixture at the State Capitol that is open to the public and families can go down there and know that the loved one that they lost is appreciated and will always be remembered.”