A crisp autumn wind blew over the tombstones at Ivy Hill Cemetery last week as city leaders gathered to honor former members of the Alexandria Fire Department. American flags whipped in the breeze as the honor guard presented the colors and James McCoy, a member of the Alexandria Police Department and the city’s employee choir, sang the national anthem.
The annual memorial service honoring the Fire Department’s fallen members is timed to coincide with National Fire Prevention Week. But there’s a timeless quality to honoring members of the Alexandria Fire Department — one that is even more evident in the past few years.
“These people are heroes,” said Sen. Patsy Ticer (D-30). “Especially since 9-11, people have come to have a greater appreciation for the bravery that these men and woman show on a daily basis.”
The ceremony honored those who have died in the line of duty and to mark the passing of those members of the department who died during the past year. Although no firefighters died in the line of duty this year, three former members of the department who retired in the 1970s died during the past year: Battalion Chief James Ross joined the department in 1946, Firefighter Norman Moore joined the department in 1951 and Captain Douglas Emerson joined the department in 1947.
“Lord, we ask you to remember all of those from this department who have gone on,” said Assistant Fire Marshal William Coates during the invocation. “Continue to keep your loving arms around us, heavenly father.”
Established in 1856 as a public cemetery, family interments at Ivy Hill date back to 1811. Dominating the entrance to the cemetery is a circle featuring a stone obelisk and a fountain dedicated to seven firefighters who lost their lives in an 1855 fire when a wall collapsed on them. 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 added in 1993, and the Friendship Fountain was renovated and rededicated as a tribute to those firefighters who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. A bronze plaque mounted on one of the columbaria in the Circle of Honor featuring the “Firefighter's Prayer” was dedicated during the 2002 Memorial Service.
“By stressing protection and prevention we can all return to our homes safe at the end of the day,” said Alexandria Fire Department Chief Gary Mesaris. “Let us renew our commitment to serving the community.”