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Remembering our fallen firefighters
Members of the Anchorage Fire Department and Airmen from JBER pay their respects during the 2012 Alaska Fallen Firefighter Memorial Ceremony and Sept. 11 Remembrance in Anchorage. The memorial, located next to Fire Station One, was hosted to remember firefighters that who in Alaska. The walls contain 27 plaques, including four additional names added that day: Army Capt. Francis C. Allen, Pvt. Ralph Kirkbride, Pvt. Frank Hayton and Pvt. Hedley Estabrook. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett)
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Remembering our fallen firefighters

Posted 9/14/2012   Updated 9/14/2012 Email story   Print story


by Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett
JBER Public Affairs

9/14/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Parents wake with a start at the sound of their smoke alarm screaming. The view of their bedroom is as black as night, and their senses are flooded with the thick, gagging smell of smoke. Feeling around, they make their way to the door and are able to feel the heat through it. Not a good sign. Scared for their children, they open the door anyway. Smoke clouds everything; somehow a fire started downstairs, and now everyone in the house is facing a potentially deadly situation. How to get everyone out without catching on fire or suffocating from the smoke?

The sound of breaking glass catches their attention and they turn. Only when the window is gone do they hear the sirens and see the firefighters making their way in. Their house might be gone, but their lives are spared because a few chose to make the commitment and risk their own lives saving others.

This scenario is an example of what firefighters do. Various films such as 'Ladder 49' and 'Fireproof' also provide examples portraying how firefighters risk, or give, their lives to save others.

These scenarios pale compared to what was required on Sept. 11, 2001. The service sometimes requires the full commitment and ultimate sacrifice. And such sacrifices are to be remembered.

They were once again remembered on Sept. 11 during the Alaska Fallen Firefighters Memorial Ceremony, next to Fire Station One in Anchorage. The event was attended by numerous firefighters and fire departments from across the state, military from JBER and other bases, and civilians from the community coming to pay their respects and remember.

"Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends'," quoted James Vignola from John 15:13. "Although these words were spoken over 2,000 years ago, to this day they have great meaning in our chosen profession. These same words helped frame why we are gathered here today."

"We have made a commitment, and it will forever be honored," the deputy chief of Anchorage Fire Department continued. "We will never forget."

During the ceremony, the Front Row Seat Band and the Crow Creek Pipers performed, playing their own salutes to the fallen. Four names of Army firefighters were added to total 27 plaques; Capt. Francis Allen, Pvt. Ralph Kirkbride, Pvt. Frank Hayton and Pvt. Hedley Estabrook. The fire brigade members died at Fort Ray, Jablonski Island, when a fire started in a dynamite and ammunition shed, Oct. 13, 1941. The firefighting detail responded and were manning the fire truck when the shed exploded, ending the lives of the four among others killed or injured.

After the ceremony, many chose to stay and view the plaques on the walls, and the bricks in the ground with names of Alaska's fallen firefighters engraved on them. Some paid their respects with gifts of flowers. People came from across Alaska, according to Mark Barker, chairman of the Fallen Firefighter Committee.

"We had firefighters and fire chiefs and fire departments from across the state," he said. "It's harder for some people to get here; we had people from Soldotna, Seward, Sitka, Fairbanks, Honor Guard from the Anchorage Firefighters Union, local 1264, and obviously people from the military bases.

"We wanted to make it nice and solemn to honor all those firefighters," Barker said.
The search for those whose names deserve to be added to the memorial continues, according to Rocky Ansell, a fire chief whose service started at Copper Center in 1970, retired there, and continues his 43rd year of service in Anchorage this November.
"We're still trying to find the history of all of this," he said. "Alaska is a very young state but evidently we weren't very good historians, keeping the records.

"From 1941, we're just now getting their story," he continued. "We have other plaques where all we know is the aircraft tail number. We don't know the names. We're still searching; that's the commitment we have to this project: to keep working and keep finding those stories and honoring all those who have sacrificed their lives to help fellow Alaskans.

"It's all about these folks, the names in the walls and in the bricks right here, remembering them, honoring their service, keeping their memories alive."

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