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‘We remember’: No matter the year, NFFF puts families first

Even as time and distance separate us from 9/11 and memories begin to fade, the NFFF remains committed to Never Forget fallen firefighters and their families


Remembering is the reason we do tributes for past line-of-duty deaths (LODDs). It’s why we do our Remembrance Cards and a variety of support programs throughout the year. We do this to let the families know: We are still here for you. Time may have passed, but we remember.


The 20th anniversary of 9/11 is a year behind us. Naturally, last year brought that day’s losses flooding back. But what about this year and others going forward following such a milestone anniversary?

No matter what year it is, we will always remember 9/11 and the 343 firefighter lives lost that day, just as we remember the singular firefighter deaths on other days, in other years, from other places. Because at the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, it’s our mission, quite literally, to never forget.

Remembering is the reason we do tributes for past line-of-duty deaths (LODDs). It’s why we do our Remembrance Cards and a variety of support programs throughout the year. We do this to let the families know: We are still here for you. Time may have passed, but we remember.

The “Never Forget” commitment

Our Fire Hero Families often express their fear that people will forget. As time and distance separate us from the incident, the community goes back to its day-to-day activities. We see the sadness in the families when the department disconnects from them, or when younger members don’t remember the firefighter.

Think about it: When an LODD occurs, there is huge outreach within the community. Chicken casseroles on the front porch every day, people taking turns stopping by to check in, the department springing into action, taking care of the funeral, fixing the home’s leaky roof, and doing all sorts of things to support the family. But at some point, it stops. And the family struggles because there wasn’t a gradual reduction in support. It just stops.

We also hear stories from our families about departments that “do it right.” The chicken casseroles may have decreased in regularity, but as soon as that first blizzard hits, the station is there to plow out the family. They remember to invite the family to the tributes and other events at the station house. They remember to stop by the little league field to watch a game. They remember to conduct trainings in honor of their fallen colleague.

They remember.

From tragedy to opportunity – and moving forward

Grief is a different experience for each family and department, but moving forward doesn’t mean you’re leaving everything behind and healing completely. What it does mean, hopefully, is that you’re making progress. And we can’t stress enough how the act of remembering helps the progress of both families and the department that suffered the loss, not to mention broader local community.

Now, with the 21st anniversary of 9/11, we recognize that there are younger members of the fire service who never experienced the trauma of that day. So how do we make sure that they remember what happened? How do we show them the positives achieved from turning a tragedy into an opportunity?

There have been so many positives, even within in our own Foundation:

  • We expanded the National Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland;
  • We initiated the Everyone Goes Home prevention program;
  • We developed the industry-standard 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives;
  • We recently hosted the Truman Fire Forum for fire prevention; and
  • We’re hosting the Firefighter Life Safety Summit later this month.

All of that is because of 9/11.

‘We will always be here’

At the end of the day, these advances all spring from remembering – and we do it for two reasons: We remember to acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice the firefighter has made, and we remember to ensure that the families, the colleagues and leadership in the affected organization are on a path of recovery toward whatever their new normal is.

The intersection of these two components is critical – it is the cornerstone of our mission at the Foundation.

So we’ll continue to do our 9/11 Memorial Stair Climbs each year – milestone anniversary or not. We’ll continue to take a leading role in working toward preventing firefighter death and injury. And we’ll continue to say to all our Fire Hero Families: We’re here. We will always be here. And we remember.

Chief Ronald Siarnicki began his fire service career with the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department in 1978 and progressed through the ranks to chief. In July 2001, Chief Siarnicki retired from the Prince George’s County to become the executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. He is a graduate of the master’s program, school of management and technology at the University of Maryland, University College and has a bachelor’s degree in fire science management from UMUC. Prior to joining the Prince George’s County, he served as a volunteer firefighter with the Monessen VFD Hose House 2 and currently serves with the United Communities VFD in Stevensville, Maryland. Siarnicki is a member of the FireRescue1/Fire Chief Editorial Advisory Board. Connect with Siarnicki on LinkedIn.