572. That is the number of names that were added to the Fallen Firefighters Memorial wall in Colorado Springs during the annual International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Fallen Firefighters Memorial ceremony on Sunday. 

aaMembers of Airdrie's Fire Department Honour Guard were in attendance at a ceremony in Colorado Springs to honour those who have died in the line of duty. (Photo credit to 
Airdrie Professional Firefighters Association)

Amongst the 1,400-some firefighters who gathered from across North America, the sombre ceremony also saw several members of the Airdrie Fire Department's Honour Guard participating. Airdrie firefighter and Captain of the Honour Guard, Paul Sunderland, said that the ceremony is first and foremost for the families whose loved ones have died in the line of service.

"I think when you see the families, there are both good and bad emotions. It's incredibly sad. However, the weekend really is for them; and they're very grateful that we're there supporting them," he said. "I think it helps them when they look around and realize that all these people are there to support them."

The 572 names include legacy names from 1918-2020, 2021 and 2022. And although Airdrie's Fire Department was spared having to put a familiar name on the wall, there are many Alberta firefighters whose names adorn the wall.

11Hundreds of names of fallen firefighters adorn the wall of a memorial in Colorado Springs. (Photo credit to Airdrie Professional Firefighters Association)

While the ceremony's date was in close proximity to the anniversary of September 11, another dauntingly painful reminder of the sacrifice first responders make to keep their communities safe; Sunderland said that the passage of time has healed some emotional wounds. The thoughts of September 11, 2001, didn't well up in him until he was looking at the memorial wall.

343 New York City firefighters lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Their names are on the memorial wall in Colorado Springs. (Photo provided by)343 New York City firefighters lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Their names are on the memorial wall in Colorado Springs. (Photo provided by Paul Sunderland)

"I looked at the names on the wall and all the 343 New York City firefighters that died. The [names] were all in the same section... That was quite emotional."

During Sunday's ceremony, General President of the IAFF, Edward A. Kelly remarked that the monument is unique in that it is the only monument that collectively honours professional firefighters, emergency medical and rescue workers from the United States and Canada, who have lost their lives in the line of duty. 

"Every firefighter, regardless of background or birth, is united by a common purpose. The desire to serve the oath we take means that others come first. That sacrifice is the cornerstone of our profession," Kelly said. "Sometimes it comes at a great personal cost. That pain is shared by our families who love us. This afternoon, we honour 572 brother and sister firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice, doing the job they loved. We gather to share that pain and to share in our love."

That sentiment was echoed by Sunderland when asked what drew him to the firefighting profession.

"I love community service; it's why I became a firefighter. I think that if you are doing something dangerous, where you could end up paying the ultimate sacrifice, it's important to respect and honour those people; and honor the families who have to live with the pain of living with a loved one who's died on duty."

Kelly also underlined that occupational cancer has been the cause of death of nearly two-thirds of the firefighters whose names are on the wall.  

"The way these ordinary men and women did extraordinary things with strangers on every call, on every run. In dark, smoke-filled rooms. It was your father or mother who brought others to safety in the back of an ambulance. It was your daughter or son who comforted a stranger and said [it would be] okay. It's what they gave, not what they gained. They saved lives."

Perhaps one of the best encapsulations of what the ceremony and the names embody is written in a poem by an unknown author, featured on the IAFF website:

We’ve purchased your security with precious offering of our lives, with families torn by grief, with fervent sacrificial duty-
firm was our belief that someone must defend the lives and property of all this pledge so fully did we live that now, we line this wall.

From the 572 names added to the wall this year, dozens of those names are firefighters who served in Alberta. 

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