Alexandria firefighters and EMS, past and present, joined with city officials and elected leaders last Friday morning at Ivy Hill Cemetery for the 34th Annual Wreath Laying and Memorial Service to honor fallen comrades over the years and those that died within the past year.
"We find ourselves here once again to honor those who died in the line of duty and those that passed away in the last year," Alexandria Fire Chief Gary A. Mesaris said in his remarks to the assembled crowd.
"One hundred and ten firefighters have died in the line of duty nationally this past year. We will continue to strive to prevent the loss of life and property. But, we continue to be reminded of just how vulnerable we all are to fire," he said.
"We need to remain engaged to prevent this loss. By stressing protection and prevention we can all return to our homes safe at the end of the day," Mesaris said.
Under the direction of Master of Ceremonies, Chief Deputy Fire Marshall Robert Luckett, this year's ceremony at the cemetery's "Circle of Honor" commenced with the presentation of the colors and an invocation by the Rev. Robert Malm, Grace Episcopal Church. He was followed by a welcome from Deputy Fire Chief Vince Whitmore.
A musical tribute was presented by Callie M.Terrell, administrative assistant, Office of the Chief, who sang "The Battle Hymn of The Republic" and "Amazing Grace" a capella.
Each year the ceremony centers on the reading of the "Roll Call of The Fallen." Names added to that list this year and read by Chief Fire Marshall Michael Connor were James C. "Chap" Coleman, Everett Alistock, Donald Simpson, and Milton Penn, a former chief of the department.
Heading the list each year is the name of Charles Glasscock who died in 1850 as a result of "injuries sustained when hit by a hand-drawn fire engine." The department's greatest loss of life in a single year occurred in 1855 when seven firefighters of Company 4 were killed when a wall collapsed "while fighting a fire in a three-story building."
Those lost in that tragedy were David Appich, William Evans, Carson Green, James Keene, George Plain, John Roach, and Robert Taylor. Others remembered annually by name and the ringing of a fire bell are: George W. Petty, 1911; George Whalen, 1925; Walter Beck, 1951; Leo E. Moore, 1958; Roger Welker, 1965; and Harry Moss, 1975.
Following the roll call each year, a wreath is laid at the base of the memorial obelisk by the department Honor Guard accompanied by the playing of taps by a lone bugler from the ceremonial unit.
JOINING A HOST of fire department personnel in the 2004 tribute were state Senator Patricia S. Ticer (D-30); Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille; Alexandria Vice Mayor Redella "Del" Pepper; Councilmen Ludwig P.Gaines, Andrew H. Macdonald, and Paul C. Smedberg.
Former councilman David Speck; City Manager Philip Sunderland; Assistant City Manager Mark Jinks; former city manager Vola Lawson; Clerk of Circuit Court Edward Semonian; Deputy Police Chief Earl Cook; and representatives of other regional municipal governments.
The ceremony, a tribute to the history and sacrifice by members of the Alexandria Fire Department, is held each year during Fire Prevention Week in the "church yard" style cemetery at 2823 King St. Established in 1856 as a public cemetery "to provide for the needs of the community," interments date back to 1811, "when Ivy Hill was a family burial ground."
Just inside the cemetery entrance stands a memorial featuring a circle of flags surrounding a stone obelisk and a fountain. It is dedicated to the seven firefighters lost in the 1855 wall collapse. However, none of those seven are buried at Ivy Hill.
The "Circle of Honor" and "Friendship Fountain" were dedicated as a tribute to the city's firefighters in 1970. A bronze relief honoring fire and emergency personnel was dedicated in 1993. The Friendship Fountain was renovated and rededicated as a tribute to those firefighters that lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.
A bronze plaque featuring the "Firefighter's Prayer" was dedicated during the 2002 Memorial Service. It is mounted on one of the columbaria in the Circle of Honor.
The 2006 Wreath Laying and Memorial Service, scheduled for Oct. 13, will mark the 150th anniversary of the relationship between Ivy Hill Cemetery and the Alexandria Fire Department with the dedication of the obelisk in 1856. As stated in this year's program, "The service stands as a tribute to the history of the Alexandria Firemen and a somber reminder of the tragic cost of fire."