BONNERS FERRY — Firefighters and spectators gathered at the Bonners Ferry Fire Department on Sunday, Oct. 7, for the 2018 National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend Observance. The memorial began with a parade of Boundary County firefighting apparatus starting at Super 1 Foods and finished at the Bonners Ferry Fire Department.
People gathered in the street — fire department in front of them, and the Ladder 1 engine to the left of them, parked on the corner of Arizona and First streets — with a large American flag displayed proudly on the end of its raised ladder, gently waving in the breeze.
The gathered firefighters and spectators were welcomed by Boundary County Chaplain Corps Chaplain Dave Lotze, and North Bench Firefighter Cheryl Jackson served as the Master of Ceremonies for the event.
“I’m speechless,” said Jackson. “This is huge, especially for women in our community. It is huge honor for firefighters and the support that we have is tremendous.”
A year ago, this event introduced the brand new Boundary County Fire Chief’s Association (BCFCA) Honor Guard. Throughout the year, as they trained and made appearances, they wore their own firefighter uniforms. Sunday, after fundraising all year, they made their first appearance in their Class A uniforms, as they performed the presentation of the colors.
“It is excellent to have the uniforms and everything,” said Tony Rohrwasser, South Boundary fire chief and member of the BCFCA Honor Guard. “Before that it was just our class Bs, our shirts and pants.”
The perfectly presented uniforms, along with the precision accomplished from many practices, lent a crisp formality to the occasion. Following the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Boundary County Chaplain Lewis Clark, Boundary County Chaplain Len Pine’s powerful voice needed no microphone as he sang the national anthem from inside the formation of the Honor Guard.
The most emotional and solemn part of the ceremony followed — the reading of the 2018 Line of Duty Death (LODD) memorial list. Fire personnel from different agencies took turns reading from the long list of names and departments.
Hall Mountain Firefighter Marty Steinhagen was one of the readers, his first time with that honor. When asked after the ceremony what it meant to him, he became choked up when he answered.
“It’s a way to honor everybody who has been before and come after,” he said. “I am just now currently doing my part — because I can — hopefully somebody else will after.”
Chaplain Earl Matthews read the Fireman’s Prayer, followed by a moment of silence, before Lotze returned to the podium to join together the audience in a prayer. Bonners Ferry Mayor David Sims took to the podium to read the 2018 Fallen Fighters Memorial Proclamation.
Bonners Ferry Firefighter Alan Hamilton then stepped up to the classic old fire engine, polished and gleaming in the intermittent sun, and performed the 5-5-5 Bell Toll, which represents the Morse code that used to go out to the whole department when a firefighter lost their life.
The ceremony finished with the retiring of the colors, and Bonners Ferry Firefighter Pat Warkentin played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes followed by “Going Home.”
“I was a police officer for almost 28 years, so I worked a lot with fire departments during my career and we responded a lot to the same scenes, so I consider them part of my own extended family,” explained Clark about what it means to be part of the ceremony. “To be able to honor them after working and being retired, in this capacity — it is a good thing. I respect them, and I respect what they do.”
For Rohrwasser, he is happy that firefighters have a place where they are now recognized for their sacrifices.
“Today is reflecting on the 9/11 terrorist attack and the firefighters who lost their life. It is a memorial now set up every year for fallen firefighters and EMS workers and things like that,” said Rohrwasser after the ceremony. “I think it is excellent to recognize them alone. We always recognize veterans and law enforcement. It is great to hold a place there.”