Although their lives are placed on the line daily, firefighters seldom make a big deal about their hero’s laurels. But each year, firefighters in California pay the ultimate price, either in the flash of an instant or the slow-motion torture of job-related illness.
This sacrifice means a lot to the firefighter family ... and firefighter union family.
In 1992, inspired by the IAFF's national firefighters memorial in Colorado Springs, Colorado, then California Professional Firefighters President Dan Terry set a goal to create a similar memorial for fallen California firefighters.
In conjunction with Legislative Advocate Brian Hatch, CPF won passage of AB 3198, authorizing the California Firefighters’ Memorial in Capitol Park, the historic grounds of California’s State Capitol in Sacramento.
With commitment, vision and plain hard work, more than $2 million was raised for the construction of the California Firefighters’ Memorial, more than 80% of it from CPF local affiliates and their members. The primary fund raising sources were a special firefighter license plate, featuring an image from the Universal Studios feature “Backdraft”; and a check-off on the state income tax form.
Despite being conceived and largely funded by unions and their members, the California Firefighters Memorial honors all fallen firefighters in California -- paid and volunteer, management and rank-and-file, federal, state and local.
On April 6, 2002, thousands of uniformed firefighters and family members converged on Sacramento for the unveiling of the California Firefighters Memorial. Led by the Pipes and Drums of the California Professional Firefighters, a sea of blue uniforms marched slowly from the steps of the Capitol to the Memorial site. Governor Gray Davis participated in the unveiling of the Memorial Wall, and firefighters from around the nation came to pay their respects.
“The California Firefighters Memorial is a monument to the commitment and self-sacrifice that is at the heart of our profession,” Terry said in his speech at the unveiling. For him, the Memorial was a personal triumph. “My proudest day in this job.”
In the autumn of each year, the California Fire Foundation -- CPF's non-profit 501c3 organization -- hosts the California Firefighters Memorial Ceremony. The annual ceremony honors individuals whose names are being added to the Memorial Wall – either from the previous year, or from earlier years. The Memorial currently contains more than 1,300 names.
Never forgetting those who serve no matter what patch is on the arm. That's part of why the union is all of us.