LETHBRIDGE – The names of 195 firefighters who died in North America in the line-of-duty this year were read out Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, followed by their cause of death and a tone to mark the end of shift.
It was part of the Fallen Firefighters Memorial Ceremony, which marked the 17th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks and remembered all firefighters who have died in the line-of-duty.
The event started with a parade of uniformed personnel, led by the Lethbridge Fire Department Honour Guard and the Lethbridge Firefighter’s Pipes and Drums, marching along 4 Ave. S. from the downtown Fire Headquarters to Southminster United Church, where they held the ceremony.
“It's not just about firefighters, it's about first responders,” said Drew Ginther, President of International Association of Firefighters Local 237 Lethbridge. “It's about police, military personnel, EMS… we may all wear a little bit different uniform, but at the end of the day we're all in it together and it's just very humbling to see people here to support us.”
Listening to the names of the fallen, it became clear early that one cause of death stands out dramatically for those who are tasked with facing life-threatening situations on a regular basis.
“Over the years we've learned from our mistakes, we've learned about how to prevent traumatic injuries and mitigate those factors, but more and more, it's becoming the cancers that are killing our members – job related cancers,” stated Ginther. “Roughly 80-per cent of line-of-duty deaths last year [were] due to job related cancer.”
Adding to the already somber atmosphere of the ceremony, was the fact that one of the names read out was that of former Lethbridge firefighter Don Carpenter, who lost his battle with leukemia in June. He dedicated 35 years to the service, before retiring in 2000.
Carpenter’s children, Stacey and Scott, attended the ceremony, telling the media afterwards that their father was passionate about the work he did while serving city residents.
"I think he found purpose within the fire department and supporting the city." - Scott Carpenter talking about his father, Don.
“He had a lot of good friends [within the fire department] and family – people we call family,” said Stacey, wiping a tear from her eye.
“He had two families, he had us and he had his fire department family, and he missed them a lot when he retired. A lot. They were very close,” added Scott.
“Mom made him apply… he was a truck driver and she didn't like the long hours that he was away, so she made him apply,” laughed Scott, recounting how his father’s career began. “But, he loved it, he loved it. I think he found purpose within the fire department and supporting the city.”
Having lost their father to cancer that was attributed to his career as a firefighter, both Scott and Stacey acknowledged that as awful as the attacks of September 11 were, the fact that it changed how people perceive first responders has been a spin-off benefit.
Scott explained that it raised the profile of cancer and other health issues for firefighters that were never really considered before.
“We had conversations about this with dad, and you know, the stuff they didn't know,” said Scott. “After fires were done, everybody would take their masks off and stand around close to the fire. And to know now that they were still breathing in all those carcinogens. Nowadays, even the fire inspectors who go in the day after to inspect are in full gear. So, a lot has been learned and a lot is left to learn.
“It's dangerous work and they do it for the citizens of whatever city they're working for, and we're very proud of our father for his service,” Scott said in conclusion.
“We're proud of all of them,” added Stacey.
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