Tears Flow as Fallen Firefighters Honored at Annual Colorado Springs Memorial Service

Colorado Springs Gazette – September 23, 2014

by Stephen Hobbs

The ceremony began with a procession of motorcycles and firetrucks headed west on Pikes Peak Avenue to the Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial in Memorial Park.

Many in the crowd waiting for the service to begin lined the street and used cellphones or cameras to take videos and photos of the vehicles as they passed. The smell of exhaust filled the air.

Saturday’s 2014 International Association of Fire Fighter Memorial was the 28th annual event honoring firefighters who have died fighting fires or from the chronic illnesses connected with their work.

The 168 fallen who were remembered Saturday is the most added since 2002, when 347 union members died on Sept. 11, 2001. Close to 3,000 members have been added to the wall dating back to 1976.

Thousands of men and women in firefighter uniforms made up the crowd and filled the outlying parts of the park to watch the service.

For much of the day, those in attendance were quiet.

Two bells tolled after each of the 168 names of the fallen men and women were read. Family members were then presented with a flag honoring the person who died. Tears filled the eyes of those who presented the flags, those who accepted, and many members of the crowd.

In one instance, a woman grabbed hold of her flag presenter and kissed him on the cheek while he saluted her.

Before the observance began, people huddled around the section of the memorial wall that included its most recent additions. Handwritten notes, pictures of children who are now grown up, candles and roses were left on the base of the wall.

Vancouver, British Columbia, firefighters Joe Chamberland and Barry Murton were among those who paid their respects before the service began, standing silently and looking at the names. Chamberland and Murton said representatives from their local 18 union make the trip each year, sometimes representing smaller unions in the area that cannot make it to the service.

Two years ago, Chamberland said he rang the bell for members of his union who died.

“That was a highlight,” he said. “It was a little bit overwhelming.”

In between speeches by dignitaries at Saturday’s service, bagpipes blared. At one moment a single bagpiper on stage led “Amazing Grace,” while dozens of others joined in the distance. That was followed by the slow metronome-like beat of a snare drum. 
In a black suit, shirt, tie and shoes, Dave Gillotte faced a wall of state, union and local fire department flags representing 168 firefighters from across the United States and Canada.

For 16 years he has come to the memorial, and all but once he has paid respects to at least one firefighter honored from the Los Angeles County Fire Fighters Local 1014 union he now leads. In his pocket was a handwritten list of the union’s eight firefighters and the years each died. But he and his union were honoring a ninth firefighter Saturday.

Granite Mountain Hotshot member Kevin Woyjeck, 21, was one of the 19 firefighters killed in Arizona’s Yarnell Hill fire on June 30, 2013. His father, Joe, is a Los Angeles County fire captain and a member of 1014.

As the names of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots were read, Gillotte braced himself.

Under his breath he said, “They’re going to read Kevin’s name in a moment.”

Kevin Joseph Woyjeck, local 3066. Prescott, Ariz., was announced over the speakers, and two bells rang.

“That’s that,” Gillotte said under his breath, after the bells. His dark sunglasses obscured only some of the emotion on his face.

“He was just a tad too young to go, you know?”

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