By Andrea Sinclair Colorado Gazette
A family member stood and a bell tolled for each of the 157 names added to the Fallen Fire Fighters’ Memorial Wall of Honor on Saturday. Ringing the bell is a tradition going back over 200 years that announces a comrade’s passing, the end of the mission, a job well done.
“Our firefighter brothers and sisters pledged to put the safety of strangers before their own well-being,” Colorado Springs Firefighters Local 5 President Jeremy Kroto said. “Their sacrifice will never be forgotten.”
The 27th Annual Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial drew thousands of union firefighters, paramedics and their families from throughout the United States and Canada, many visiting Colorado Springs for the first time. “When I meet other mothers and spouses who have lost their firefighters, I feel comforted, it’s truly heart-wrenching,” said Rosalie Ragucci, of New York City. She clutched her husband Ray Ragucci’s commemorative flag, presented to her by a firefighter whose voice broke as he struggled to hold back tears.
After three decades with the New York City Fire Department, Ray Ragucci died of a rare form of blood cancer on September 4, 2011. Rosalie and her three adult children traveled to attend the event in Memorial Park.
“These events almost feel like you’re burying your loved one all over again, but it’s a type of therapy, too,” Rosalie Ragucci said.
More than 400 motorcyclists and firetrucks joined the memorial as a procession from The Promenade Shops at Briargate Parkway and traveled south along Union Boulevard. Hundreds lined Pikes Peak and Hancock avenues, cheering and yelling out thank-yous to the firefighters.
International Association of Fire Fighters General President Harold Schaitberger recognized the sole Colorado firefighter added to the memorial wall this year, former IAFF 9th District Vice President Randall E. Atkinson, from Denver, who died Oct. 9, 2012.
“Randy and I were close friends for more than 25 years and his loss is as personal to me as the loss of your loved ones,” Shaitberger said. “His life-long dedication to the job and his exceptional character as a father and a friend are his legacy.”
Schaitberger praised Colorado firefighters for their dedication and service in dealing with three disasters over the past 16 months and coordinating the annual tribute.
“Colorado firefighters dealt with the historically destructive Waldo Canyon fire and barely a year later, the Black Forest fire set the hills ablaze. Then, just last week, a thousand-year flood event hit Colorado and they all answered the call,” Schaitberger said. “Through all that, they’ve stayed focused and put together this memorial.
“Being here and seeing a memorial of this magnitude, it does something to your heart,” Rosalie Ragucci said. “I see the love that everyone has for the firefighters and each other, and it’s humbling.”