WISCONSIN RAPIDS – Firefighters from across the state will gather Saturday to honor seven of their own who gave their lives in the line of duty during the past year.
Each October, a ceremony is held at the Wisconsin State Firefighters Memorial in Ben Hansen Park in Wisconsin Rapids that includes the reading of the names on the memorial, playing of bagpipes, choral presentations and the traditional Firefighter's Bell Ceremony. The public is invited to attend the ceremony, which begins at 3:33 p.m. Saturday on the lawn surrounding the memorial.
The names of the seven firefighters to be honored this year, who all died from COVID-19, will be added to the wall before the ceremony.
Last year, three of the six firefighters who were honored died from COVID, said Jim Luty, retired firefighter and president of the Wisconsin State Firefighters Memorial Board of Directors. Three others who were honored died the previous year, when the ceremony was canceled because of the pandemic, Luty said.
The firefighters being honored this year were all from volunteer fire departments, Luty said. He's not sure why the volunteer departments seemed to be hit harder by COVID in the past year.
The men added to the wall this year include:
Firefighter Gary E. Berg, of the North Prairie Fire Department, died Oct. 19.
Firefighter Joshua D. Fedie, of the Boscobel Fire Department, died May 31, 2021.
Firefighter Anthony J. Matyka, of the Westboro Fire Department, died Dec. 16.
Firefighter Brandon R. Romo, of the Pardeeville Fire Department, died Nov. 6.
Fire Chief Frank C. Sanchez Jr., of the Nekimi Volunteer Fire Department, died May 26, 2021.
Firefighter Stephen M. Smith, of the Vandenbroek-Kaukauna Fire Department, died Dec. 20.
Firefighter Matt Siddons, of the Cadott Fire Department, died Dec. 29.
Wisconsin Rapids Fire Chief Todd Eckes is inviting the firefighters who attend the ceremony and the family members of the fallen firefighters to a brat fry at the Wisconsin Rapids Fire Department immediately after the ceremony, Luty said. It will give the firefighters from out of town a place to go and eat prior to the Final Alarm Procession that begins at 7 p.m. Saturday.
During the Final Alarm Procession, firefighters will drive fire equipment with emergency lights on and sirens off through a procession route in the city. The firefighters will leave the memorial and head east on Second Avenue South, continuing on along Third Avenue. The procession will go across the Jackson Street Bridge and then turn left onto First Street. It will go through the traffic circle onto Baker Street and go up the hill to 16th Street. Firefighters then will turn right onto 16th Street, follow it to East Grand Avenue and turn right onto East Grand Avenue. The procession will cross the Grand Avenue Bridge and then immediately turn left onto First Avenue South, follow it to Third Avenue South and end back at the memorial.
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This article originally appeared on Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune: Seven firefighters added to Wisconsin State Firefighters Memorial