COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Each September, the families of fallen firefighters from across the US and Canada come to Colorado Springs to see their loved ones recognized at the Fallen Firefighter Memorial. However, with cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant rising, organizers decided it was best to wait to hold that ceremony next year.
Captain Mike Smaldino, Public Information Officer for the Colorado Springs Fire Department and a Member of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local #5 said that around 650 names of fallen firefighters are added to the memorial wall every year. It's not unusual to have a crowd of around 6,000 to 7,000 people visit the city for the ceremony.
"We're going to be honoring firefighters that have died from COVID," Smaldino explained. "So, really what you don't want to do is expose that many people coming here to that."
He said this decision was made after consulting with doctors and public health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Johns Hopkins University, among others.
International travel was another factor. Among the fallen firefighters who are to be honored, 94 come from Canada. Had their families flown here, many would then have to quarantine before being allowed to return home.
Smaldino said all of the firefighters who died in 2020 will still be honored even if there isn't a large gathering.
"We don't want to wait an additional year before we call out their names before they're recognized. And even if it's just a small private ceremony of just a few of us, we're still going to do it because that's what we do."
Last year, a virtual memorial service was held so that the firefighters who died in 2019 could have their names read.
Smaldino added that the engraver who etches the names into the wall is already preparing a trip here from Vermont to add the names of the 2020 fallen firefighters.
In the meantime, plans are already being made for a large public remembrance in September of 202. The event may need to be spread out across a number of days.
"The planning is already happening," Captian Smaldino said. "We've already started and we're going to get it done."