For the second year in a row, families of fallen firefighters will gather to grieve in front of computer monitors as coronavirus concerns again stall their chance for a memorial ceremony in Colorado Springs.
Citing rising COVID-19 case rates throughout the nation, the International Association of Firefighters has announced that their annual September memorial honoring fallen firefighters would also be held virtually in 2021.
The ceremony, started in 1976, is usually held in Colorado Springs’ Memorial Park where the names of firefighters lost in the line of duty are inscribed on memorial walls in their honor. Hundreds of firefighters from the U.S. and Canada join the families in the park to honor lost comrades.
In 2020, union officials said they cancelled the event to protect people from the spread of COVID-19.
This year, they told families the same thing.
“We have fallen firefighter family members coming from all over the United States — New York, Atlanta — all these places that have way worse upticks than we even have,” Chris Weaver, memorial coordinator, said. “So we don’t want to bring these people from potential hot spots to our community.”
This year’s virtual service will honor members lost in 2020 as well as in 2019 — 225 names in total, Weaver said. Typically, the union memorializes fallen firefighters from the past year, which is a tradition that’s compounding each year the event is held virtually.
That means that in 2022, the Colorado Springs ceremony will honor all firefighters lost since 2019.
Around 10,000 people typically turn out to the annual event, Weaver said, and many families, some of whom had already made travel arrangements, were angry when they found out they’d need to cancel their plans.
Still, Weaver said most understood why coordinators had made the decision.
“We just didn’t think we’d be good stewards of the fallen firefighters’ families’ safety if we had another memorial this year,” Weaver said. “Everybody’s dealing with all this change the best they can.”
On top of their concern for the local community, union officials said the association has lost several of its members to COVID-19. In August, they said seven firefighters died from the virus, and five more died between Sept. 1 and Sept. 7, according to the union’s page for firefighters lost to COVID-19.
The association lists 53 overall as having lost their lives to the virus since the pandemic began last March.
In a Sept. 1 message to the union, general president Edward Kelly urged firefighters and their families to get vaccinated against the virus, citing the amount of Americans and Canadians already vaccinated against COVID-19 and claiming it was firefighters’ jobs to boost those numbers.
“Firefighters lead,” Kelly said. “We lead in our neighborhoods, our towns, our cities, our provinces. We have to lead right now. Get vaccinated.”