President Obama at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service. Photo credit: NFFF.
On Sunday, October 4, President Obama spoke at the 34th National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The event honored the 84 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2014 and three firefighters who died in previous years.
Below is the text of his remarks:
“Thank you. Craig, thanks for that introduction, but more importantly, thank you for the outstanding work that you and your team do all across the country every single day. For those of you who know Craig, you know that he is cool under pressure, no doubt because he got his start — started his career as a firefighter. I want to thank Congressman Steny Hoyer, Fire Administrator Ernest Mitchell, Chief Dennis Compton, and everybody at the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation for bringing us together here today. And most especially, I want to say how honored I am to be with the families of the fallen, and express the gratitude of the nation for the sacrifices that you and your families have made on behalf of others.
Scripture tells us, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Employ it in serving one another. Every single day, across our country, men and women leave their homes and their families so they might save the lives of people that they’ve never met. They are good stewards — serving their neighbors, their communities, our nation with courage, and fortitude and strength. We can never repay them fully for their sacrifices.
But today, we gather to honor 87 brave firefighters who gave their lives in service to us all. Our prayers are with their families, many of whom honor us with their presence today. You remember them as moms and dads, siblings and spouses, friends and neighbors. Today, we remember them and salute them as the heroes that they were.
It’s hard to think of a more selfless profession than firefighting. There’s a reason why firefighting occupies a special place in our imaginations; why little boys and increasingly little girls say, I want to be a fireman, I want to a firefighter. They understand instinctually that there’s something special about it. Imagine what it takes to put on that heavy coat, and that helmet, and override the natural human instinct for self-preservation, and run into danger as others are running away; to literally walk through fire knowing that you might never make it out because you’re trying to save people that are strangers.
And yet, the fallen that we honor today would probably have said that they were just ordinary Americans who were doing work they believed in, carrying on a tradition as old as America itself. There’s a humility that seems to be part of being a firefighter. From rural communities to inner cities, those we honor today lived a fundamental principle that binds us all as Americans — that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper, that we look out for one another, that there’s something bigger than each of us individually that we have to be true to.
We honor men like Michael Garrett of West Virginia. Mikey, as he was known, started out as a junior firefighter at the age of 16, became an EMT by 18, was on his way to graduating with an associate degree in emergency services. His mom, Faith, says Mikey was always smiling, always a practical joker — if you turned around, your cell phone would be in the pool. And he was always the guy you could call on in a pinch. No matter how busy he was — between school and work and being an EMT instructor himself — he’d be there to help.