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The Nation

Thousands Pack Tribute to Firefighters

October 13, 2002|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — Thousands of firefighters from around the world packed Madison Square Garden and the surrounding streets Saturday for a solemn memorial ceremony to honor 356 New York City firefighters killed in the line of duty -- 343 of them at the World Trade Center last year.

Many in the audience of 25,000 inside and 30,000 watching on TV screens outside the arena cried quietly as pictures of the firefighters smiled from the screens, some shown in crisp formal uniforms, others in wedding tuxedos and many holding children.

"They went beyond professionalism, and carried with them the strength and courage that remind the nation of the gallant heroes of our past," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said. "Even though they are no longer among us, they continue to lead."

Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani reminded the audience that, despite the great sadness surrounding the day, those who were lost would not want their families and friends to dwell on their grieving.

"They died to protect people, they died to protect life ... and I think they would want you, the people that they loved, to move forward, to be brave," he said. "Our mourning will live until we die, their heroism will live forever."

As the final name was read in a roll call of those being honored, the arena erupted into a five-minute standing ovation.

"I lost a lot of friends, and it's a year, but the hurt doesn't go away," Brooklyn firefighter Todd Bilgore said. "It keeps hurting."

The memorial began with thousands of firefighters -- led by color guards, bagpipers and drummers from the New York Fire Department -- marching in heavy rain up Eighth Avenue.

Amid the procession, 356 firefighters, some from as far away as Japan and Australia, each carried a U.S. flag representing an FDNY member lost in the line of duty since October 2000.

The deaths over the last two years include the twin towers victims and nine paramedics and firefighters killed in other incidents, three retirees working as World Trade Center fire safety directors and a member of the insurance industry-funded New York Fire Patrol.

Each victim's family was to be presented with the Medal of Supreme Sacrifice.

"It's like the city's officially closing the book on it," said Chief John O'Rourke, a 37-year department veteran. "The fire department will never close the book on it."

The department's annual ceremony for firefighters lost in the line of duty was moved to Madison Square Garden this year to accommodate families and friends.

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