Honoring fallen firefighters

National tribute: Baltimore County volunteer exemplified spirit of those killed in the line of duty.

October 08, 2001

ROBERT W. Humphrey wasn't paid to fight fires and rescue those in danger. But he did so for 27 years as a volunteer firefighter with the Maryland Line fire company in northern Baltimore County.

His death a year ago came in the line of duty, when he was struck by a motorist as he attempted to rescue a woman trapped in an overturned car on Interstate 83.

The Parkton man was among the 102 fallen firefighters honored Oct. 7 in memorial ceremonies at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg.

His name will be inscribed on a plaque by the towering bronze Maltese cross monument on the academy's Frederick County campus, joining those of nearly 2,200 others killed in the line of duty since 1981.

President Bush attended the ceremonies, which included a special tribute to the nearly 300 New York City firefighters who were killed at the World Trade Center tragedy Sept. 11.

Congress established the national memorial in 1990 to pay homage to an average 100 American firefighters who die in service each year. (We still think it's a good idea to create a national day on Sept. 11 to honor all emergency workers.)

Mr. Humphrey, a retired truck driver who served the Maryland Line volunteer unit for 27 years, exemplified the spirit of the fallen whose memory is preserved by the monument and its eternal flame. He heard the emergency radio call and raced to the accident scene in his own truck.

Volunteering to help those in need was a passion for him and for the many others who unselfishly serve their communities in fire and rescue units.

"Bob passed on doing what he liked to do," said a colleague in fitting tribute.

He, like other firefighters, was all about courage and sacrifice, two of the most important ingredients in true heroism.

We've been reminded abruptly in the last three weeks of the importance of sparing our use of the word "hero" for those who truly deserve it.

For Mr. Humphrey and his compatriots, though, there is no more apt description.

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