May 7—Saturday night marked the annual candlelight vigil for the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend in Emmitsburg, where attendees lit electric lights in honor of lost loved ones.
Throughout the weekend, 144 firefighters will be honored in events at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Park at the National Emergency Training Center.
The two public events are the candlelight vigil and the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service on Sunday.
Zachary Paris, of the New Tripoli Fire Company near Allentown, Pa., and a Green Valley career firefighter in Frederick County was among those honored.
Paris died in December after he and Marvin Gruber were trapped in a house during a three-alarm fire in West Penn Township, Pennsylvania.
His family attended the service, Frederick County Fire Chief Tom Coe wrote in a text message.
"Through music, and light, we wish to offer you peaceful moments to reflect upon your fallen firefighter," master of ceremonies Capt. Garon Patrick Mosby said at the event.
Mosby is a public information officer at the St. Louis Fire Department.
Event officials placed the Presidential Wreath in front of a Maltese Cross, which represents those in fire service, and revealed a plaque with the names of the honored firefighters.
This was the first time in decades, according to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation's website, that the event did not take place in October.
The switch was made because of the possibility of a government shutdown and uncertain weather conditions in October, when the event is usually held.
"With moving this weekend from October, we found ourselves contemplating the changes in our preparations big and small. We were reminded of the seasonality of our lives," Troy Markel, chairman of the board of directors of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and president of VFIS, a subsidiary of Glatfelter Insurance Group, said during the ceremony.
"Perhaps you feel this way, too. There has undoubtedly been a seismic shift in your plans and your dreams," he added.
The U.S. fire administrator, Lori Moore-Merrell, attended, along with Mayor Donald Briggs of Emmitsburg.
Paris was a quiet, reserved person, and a hard worker, said William Veith, a lieutenant with the Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services and a supervisor of Paris's shift when he worked at Green Valley.
"He kind of kept his head down. He was always moving," Veith said in a phone interview.
Paris had to drive two and a half hours from Tripoli to work his 24-hour shift, every third day, Veith said.
Veith would arrive at about 4:45 a.m. for a shift that began at 6 a.m., only to find Paris already there, working on chores or getting the coffee made.
Why the long commute? A "career in the fire service was his dream job," Veith said.
The event's musical performances included Capt. William C. Kennedy of the North Charleston Fire Department in South Carolina singing "You will be found" from the musical "Dear Evan Hansen" and "This little light of mine" from baritone Thomas Beard.
Pictures of the fallen firefighters with their families played on large screens at the event, while people held lit candles.
After they did, Mosby invited the crowd to take a few deep breaths.
"Carry that peace home and keep it in your heart," he said.
The event honored 79 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2022 and 65 from prior years.
This increase from prior years (compared to 92 in 2018) could be caused by more firefighters being retroactively identified as having died in the line of duty due to cancers from Ground Zero at 9/11 and due to the coronavirus, Bill Suthard, a public information officer for the memorial, said in a phone interview.
That could have been the case for Tracy Veno, of the City of Olean Fire Department.
He died from the coronavirus in 2021, but was honored this year, his brother, Tom Veno, a retired law enforcement official in Olean, New York, said after the event.
Victoria Veno, the wife of Tracy Veno, said a crucial part of the event was support from other families and the foundation.
Veno's family made a bag to honor him with photos and an electric candle, along with other relatives and friends at a Gettysburg hotel.
The bags were lined up underneath the main stage.
Finding out about the loss of Paris was "gut wrenching," Veith said. Paris had just started to open up on shift and crack an unexpected joke or two, he added.
"We were just with him for four months. I wish we would have had more time to get to know him deeper," Veith said.