Tribute to heroes

Bush consoles kin of fallen firefighters during a memorial at Emmitsburg

October 08, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,Sun reporter

EMMITSBURG -- Sandra Jarred had heard the tributes, hymns and prayers when her son Allan M. Roberts was killed fighting a rowhouse fire in Baltimore last year.

But at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service yesterday in Emmitsburg, she was hugged and kissed by President Bush.

"It meant a lot to me," said Jarred, who lives in Florida. "I thought it was wonderful how he took time with each family. It wasn't rushed."

In addition to Roberts' family - including his widow and children - Bush offered condolences to relatives of 86 other firefighters and paramedics killed nationwide last year in the line of duty and four other firefighters who had not previously been recognized at the annual memorial service.

"I'm sorry it's under these circumstances that we have to be together," Bush said before an hourlong procession in which he gave a rose, a flag and a medallion to each family.

Bush, who flew in to the National Firefighters Academy from nearby Camp David in Thurmont, called the memorial "a reminder that the work here is a calling, not a job."

He also pledged implementation of the Hometown Heroes Act, legislation designed to allow families of public safety officers who die of heart attack or stroke within 24 hours of participating in emergency response to collect line-of-duty death payments.

Roberts, a 19-year veteran of the Baltimore Fire Department, was killed last October in a Greektown rowhouse fire. The 40-year-old firefighter believed people were trapped inside, though those reports turned out to be false.

Roberts' children were 18 months, 5, 11 and 13 at the time.

"Allan loved the Fire Department, and when he wasn't spending time with his children (Samantha, Kaitlyn, Jacob and Daniel), he could be found at the firehouse," his wife, Teresa, wrote in a tribute for yesterday's service. "Known as the `swap king,' Allan was the guy you would go to in order to find someone to cover your shift if you needed a day off."

Roberts, who worked on Truck 26, was commended twice for exemplary performance - in 1994 for rescuing an infant from a burning apartment and in 2002 for his work during the Howard Street Tunnel fire.

Communication problems at the scene of the Macon Street fire and safety violations, including the absence of a rescue team on site, were noted by investigations after the fatal fire.

Thousands of firefighters and paramedics from across Maryland and the country attended yesterday's memorial service at the National Fire Academy campus.

Since the memorial was constructed in 1981, more than 3,000 names have been inscribed on the walls. Maryland Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, who delivered the keynote address, mentioned Roberts and Deep Creek volunteer firefighter Edward D. Wilburn, 64, who died of a heart attack in December while responding to the fire station for an emergency call.

Security was tight at the service. Those in attendance, including reporters, had to pass through metal detectors, arrive early and remain seated during Secret Service sweeps of the academy grounds. Snipers were visible on the roof of the dining hall.

Bush also attended the annual memorial service in 2001, a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Hours later, he ordered airstrikes in Afghanistan.

But the president made no mention of politics or the war yesterday, focusing his remarks on the importance of firefighters in their communities.

"When you walk by a firehouse or pass an ambulance on the street corner," he said, "take a moment to say `thank you.'"

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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