I don’t publicize my work with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation much, and there is good reason for it. My role with the NFFF has very little to do with me and everything to do with the Mission of the NFFF. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Over the past 5 years or so, my role during Memorial Weekend has changed a little. My role now includes oversight of a dedicated group of individuals who have a keen knowledge of what they are doing…but this article isn’t about me or them really.
84 firefighters were added to the Memorial this year. Three others were honored this year from past years. These firefighters were from all types of departments in all types of communities across the United States.
This article is about the 100’s if not 1000 volunteers (both firefighters and returning survivors) who converge in Emmitsburg, MD every October to make magic happen. Magic in the form of a well rehearsed, scripted, and produced weekend full of events covering multiple locations.
Those who make the pilgrimage are doing it for the right reasons. They are one of many there to accomplish two great missions. Honor the Fallen Firefighters and support their Survivors.
The entire Memorial Weekend takes much more than just one weekend or the week before to plan. The events are conducted by a complete Incident Management System. There is no free-lancing and no breaks in the chain of command. Everyone knows their role and everyone understands who they answer to.
It really is a symphony of firefighters and returning survivors who do wondrous things. The real magic is that even the best plans can and do change. Those changes are communicated and the new plan(s) are put into action. No matter what changes are made, everything is still flawless.
For instance…the weather. Every year, we contend with the weather. Whether it is good or bad weather for events which are ultimately intended to be held outside, we role with the punches.
This year, the decision for where the events would be held had to be made early due to the fact that President Obama attended.
The President attending was an awesome experience.
What amazed me was how Raleigh Fire Chief John McGrath (The Incident Commander for the Weekend) set the tone for the President being there. He said something to the affect of…Yes, we have to deal with many more security issues this weekend, it is because it is the
President of the United States. They (the secret service) have a duty to protect the President at all times. We must comply with their needs as the need to protect the President is Paramount.
Don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t any complaining…that doesn’t happen in Emmitsburg. Moreso, you know how firefighters are…if we had the opportunity, we would have been telling Secret Service how to do their jobs. The funny thing about Secret Service, from what I gathered in my few interactions with them was nobody tells them what to do. They were clean and professional. It was refreshing to see another organization take so much pride in being professional as the fire service does.
While I am not a major cog in the wheel of IMS during Memorial Weekend, it is amazing to see how everything works. Individual divisions handle their business and if they need to report to the IC, they have ample opportunity. The span of control is not exceeded, and the meetings held several times a day in the Command Post are cut and dry. What is also refreshing is that there is no micro-managing. Expectations are high, and the mission is critical. Honor the Fallen; Support the Survivors.
This years Memorial Weekend leading up to and including the Memorial Service went off without a hitch. I’m telling you it is amazing.
What was interesting for me this year was that due to security, I was not able to be inside during the Memorial Service. My role leaves me in front of a computer most of the time. If the POTUS had not been there, I would have been in and out during the service. This year, I had a choice…stay inside or stay outside. I simply couldn’t do my work inside….so outside I went.
I stayed outside so I could publish content to the rest of the world via social media for the NFFF. The team I work with was scattered around inside the venue and fed me pictures during the service. I got to watch it live on tv, just as most of the World did. Myself and Scott Hendricks (Howard County Fire/Rescue) were all set up inside Command 17. We actually got to hang out with two very cool Secret Service Snipers. Probably the coolest part of that was while we asked them all kinds of questions about their jobs, they were actually interested in and asked us about ours. Captain Wines somehow managed to get himself a pass to go in and out. He joined us for a bit as well.
Each year, I love the opportunity to attend and help out during Memorial Weekend. If you are interested in going as a fire service member, you are welcome to come. More information will be posted as next years event comes near for you to get involved.