By Betti Clark
In an annual ceremony begun by Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522, seventy-one brave firefighters who lost their lives this year in California were honored during an October event.
The ceremony at Sacramento’s Historic City Cemetery near Land Park was especially poignant this year, as it took place while more than 1,000 firefighters battled a half dozen wild fires in Northern California during what has become California’s worst wildfire season in history.
The service was held on Saturday, October 14 at the end of 2017 Fire Prevention Month.
This was the 28th Annual Firefighter Memorial Program which is sponsored by Firefighters Local 522. This program begins at Sacramento Station 5 and parades to the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery two blocks away.
Local 522 starts the morning muster with a pancake breakfast for anyone coming to participate. While eating breakfast, attendees are privileged to hear the sounds of the Sacramento Firefighters Pipes and Drums warming up for the ceremony.
Once all have arrived for the 8:45 a.m. start time, the parade begins its short but impressive procession to the Exempt Fireman’s Plot and Fire Bell at the cemetery.
Rescue Engine 5 draped with the traditional black wreath heads the parade route. Sacramento Hook and Ladder 1, Local 522 Honor Guard and the Sacramento Firefighters Pipes and Drum along with uniformed firefighters from a variety of California stations filled in the parade.
Other dignitaries joined at the end, including City of Sacramento Councilmember Steve Hansen and Past President (‘85-’98) of Local 522, Dick Mayberry.
Master of Ceremony Niko King made introductions and instructed the Honor Guard to post the colors. Father Guillermo “Memo” Hernandez of St. Rose Catholic Church gave the invocation.
Hansen gave the memorial address, sharing his connection to the fire service that included the 9/11 bombing and its effect on his life.
“By having this event on such a sacred site—because it is the oldest public cemetery in the state, by having the volunteer firefighters plot—it ties us all the way back to the first people who stood up to help protect our city in 1850,” said Hansen. “It carries through the generations of firefighters and it’s one of those traditions that will hold us together during times of adversity. When we ask people—because instinctively we do—to rush into a fire to save lives or property, we have to honor that and this is an annual opportunity to do that, especially given that we’ve lost 71 firefighters so far this year and in the midst of the fires that are going on around the state that have killed so many and put a lot of people in danger.”
Fire Chaplain Captain Kevin Snider gave the benediction that preceded the Roll Call of the Fallen and Bell Service.
All seventy-one names of fallen firefighters were called to honor those women and men who gave their all this past year. Reading the names were firefighters Aaron Williams and Adrienne Bisharat. Firefighter Dominic DeRose provided the Bell Service for each name read.
Following this service, Bugler Baldwin Wong, VFW Post 8358 Sacramento, played Taps. The ceremony ended with Amazing Grace by the Sacramento Firefighters Pipes and Drums.
The first Memorial Ceremony came at the end of a renovation project of the Exempt Fireman’s Plot at the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery in the late 1980’s.
Retired Engineer George King, while on a tour to select a gravesite for the City Cemetery’s “Adopt a Plot” campaign, became aware of the historic plot.
George adopted the enclave and gave of his time, talent and labor for over two years to restore the site from the effects of time and vandals and to design and help construct a cupola to permanently encase the bell.
George went to Local 522 to advise of his intentions and request financial assistance.
Dick Mayberry was the president at the time and they offered full financial support for this project. Local 522 set up a financial fund for future repairs and maintenance of this plot.
The first Firefighters Annual Memorial Program was held on October 13, 1990, paying homage to all firefighters that came before and who made the ultimate sacrifice attempting to save others. It also rededicates the commitment to saving the lives and property firefighters swore to protect.
The Sacramento City Cemetery started with 10 acres donated by John Sutter.