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More than 700 family members of 148 fallen firefighters gather for candlelight service

“It was a beautiful ceremony, and we’re very proud to be here,” said widow Michelle Ruedy, expressing shared feelings


Photo/National Fallen Firefighters Foundation

Jack Hogan
The Frederick News-Post

EMMITSBURG, Md. — Being at a firefighters event without her husband was “surreal” for Kate Muñoz, 49.

Her husband, Henry Muñoz, died in July 2021 at the age of 50 after a two-year battle with brain cancer, related to his 20 years as a firefighter. He was a firefighter with the Los Angeles Fire Department when he died.

“Every fire event we’ve ever been to was with our husbands. So it’s strange to be here without them,” Muñoz said. “But we’re very honored to have our husbands be here in any capacity and be honored here.”

More than 700 family members, from as far away as Alaska and the U.S. Virgin Islands, gathered at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg on Saturday for a candlelight service to remember 148 fallen firefighters.

The candlelight service was held on the eve of the annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service.

Among those honored was Joshua Laird, who was a battalion chief with the Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services. Laird died on Aug. 11, 2021 battling a two-alarm house fire on Ball Road in Ijamsville. He was 46.

Laird’s widow, Sara, attended Saturday’s service.

In addition to Muñoz, four widows whose husbands were firefighters in the Los Angeles Fire Department traveled with their families to Emmitsburg.

Heidi Perez, 44, lost her husband, Jose, in July 2020 after he died from COVID-19 at the age of 44. He was a firefighter for 17 years, and was a firefighter and paramedic with the Los Angeles Fire Department at the time of his death.

Perez said it was an honor to be at Saturday’s candlelight service. It was a sentiment shared by others she was with.

“It was a beautiful ceremony, and we’re very proud to be here,” said Michelle Ruedy, 55.

Her husband, John, or “J.R.,” died in May 2021 at the age of 54 from lung cancer, which he contracted from smoke exposure over the course of 32 years as a firefighter. He was a captain II with the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Michelle Ruedy’s children traveled with her, too, including her 23-year-old son, Derek.

“Being a part of this community is really special,” Derek Ruedy said. “It’s a lifelong group that you’re a part of across the county. And it’s nice to hear different stories, meet different people and the legacies that they have will last a lifetime.”

As dusk fell during Saturday’s ceremony, an electric remembrance candle was lit, and the family and friends of the 148 fallen firefighters being honored touched candles with those seated next to them to share the electric light and honor their loved ones.

Families also lit candles inside bags that they decorated with pictures of their lost loved ones and notes to them. The bags lined a walkway leading from a stage to the memorial.

The families gathered for the ceremony also said that people must make sure to honor the firefighters who continue serving their communities each day.

“There [are] people day in and day out that sacrifice their lives and go away from their families to be able to help their communities,” Derek Ruedy said.

“They’re all heroes,” his mom said. “They’re definitely all heroes.”


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