Celebrating tribute to fallen firefighters

Groundbreaking marks start of construction on Maryland memorial

September 12, 2005|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,SUN STAFF

ANNAPOLIS - He had spent the afternoon trying to deflect attention away from himself, and somehow made it with his cane from the dais to the groundbreaking spot first, and quietly staked out the end of the forming line of politicians and members of his foundation.

But there was no ignoring the smile that broke across the face of J. Donald Mooney, 67-year-old chief emeritus of the Lansdowne Volunteer Fire Co. at the ceremony marking the start of construction for a state firefighters memorial - a project eight years in the making.

"It's been challenging, and we've hit some bumps, but we overcame them," said Mooney, president of the Maryland Fire-Rescue Services Memorial Foundation. "I'm in my 50th year in the fire service, and this is the highlight of my career."

Through private fundraising - much from within the firefighter community - and two state grants, the foundation raised $850,000 for the project, the first memorial for the state's 338 firefighters who have died in the line of duty.

More than 200 firefighters, their families and politicians - including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer - gathered at the prime spot of land in front of the Louis L. Goldstein Treasury Building, where the memorial is expected to be completed next year.

Designed by Baltimore sculptor Rodney Carroll, it depicts a firefighter and paramedic climbing a staircase as a mother and child, with hands outstretched, appear to mourn their departure.

The design symbolizes not getting the chance to say goodbye, said foundation treasurer Gene Worthington - with the memorial, 16-feet tall at its highest point, intended to provide that opportunity.

While the state is home to the National Fallen Firefighters Monument in Emmitsburg, many felt there was still a need for a more personal, state-specific memorial.

Some came to the event in firetrucks, others in cars or on motorcycles, and many were chatting in the hot sun and exchanging congratulations. A large American flag hung vertically from the tops of two adjoining fire ladders.

"This is our backyard," said Cathy Hedrick, a Charles County resident whose son, Kenneth M. Hedrick, a Morningside Volunteer Fire Department firefighter, died at age 18 while trying to pull residents from a burning home in 1992. "Many of the people who come here might recognize his name."

As of January, the group still needed $250,000 - nearly a third of the project's cost. But the General Assembly awarded the foundation a $200,000 grant this year - its second in two years from the state.

Foundation leaders said they chose Sept. 11 - the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attack and the deaths of 343 firefighters in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in New York City - for the groundbreaking date to remind Marylanders of local firefighters who have died in the line of duty over the past two centuries.

For most, the central emotion of the day was not grief or mourning but relief that work on the project they conceived in 1997 - and supported with food drives, auctions and brick sales - had begun.

"It's finally happened," Mooney told the crowd.

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