This year, as in years past, I will attend the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial in October at the campus of the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md. The year 2016 was no different from other years — except that firefighter Timothy Gunther of Poughkeepsie and Captain Jack Rose of Mount Marion had died in the line of duty the year before and were being honored. The weather that year mitigated against an outdoor ceremony, and Mount Saint Mary University generously opened its doors to us in the 11th hour.
That was also the year that President Obama attended the event in person and gave a speech about the sacrifices that firefighters make, particularly praised those who made the ultimate sacrifice and attempted to offer some words of comfort to the grieving families and department members in attendance. Representatives of each family or fire department came forward when their loved ones’ names were called, received a folded U.S. flag, a red rose and a commemorative badge. They also had the opportunity to take a picture with the President of the United States. I was within several yards of it all, and watched the procession of proud families — natural and firematic — come up to honor their heroes and be thanked by the president on behalf of a grateful nation.
That year, 2016, SGT Kerry Winters fell in the line of duty and the members of all of the emergency services — police, fire, EMS and dispatchers — were in mourning. I was not available to serve on his detail as I had on so many other occasions before and since, but I mourned with all the rest of the Brotherhood.
The following year, 2017, when I learned that Sheriff VanBlarcum had received the condolences of President Trump at the Law Enforcement Memorial in May, and that some people in our county had taken offense to that, I was outraged! I had always thought of the sheriff as a good public servant, and saw that he was merely putting the duties of his office before the feelings of his party toward one man. Later in 2017, an opportunity opened to train with the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office at an Honor Guard Academy, and I jumped at the chance. I counted it a privilege to hone my skills as an honor guard member in a school hosted by members of an organization whose commanding officer took this sacred duty so seriously.
I am grateful for Sheriff VanBlarcum’s service. At the Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C. last year, he was right where the head of an emergency services organization ought to have been — representing that organization, and not a political party.