On October 11, firefighters from across New York came to Albany to honor their fallen brothers at the 19th Annual Fallen Firefighters Memorial Ceremony. Under a beautiful autumn sky, the names of eight individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice were added to the memorial wall. While many dignitaries spoke that day, the words of Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul conveyed the message they all had brought with them that day. Here are her remarks …
On behalf of Governor Cuomo and the people of the state of New York, I welcome you here to this solemn occasion.
Two weeks ago, I came to this site and sat here alone. I knew I’d have to give these remarks on this day and it was a similarly beautiful day with blue skies. And I sat in those very seats praying for inspiration. Praying for God to give me the words to inspire you and to help relieve some of your pain. I came up emptyhanded, because mere words alone will never suffice.
But as I sat there, I glanced at this amazing sculpture, which I had never taken the time before to closely examine. And I realized that every inch of this sculpture evokes emotion, energy and empathy. It’s larger than life, like the heroes we honor today.
It’s solid bronze. Durable. Strong. Resilient. The facial expressions, a sense of urgency to do whatever they could to help their fallen comrade. Two brothers in arms, pulling this firefighter away from the wall of names in the hope of saving his life.
What struck me the most was the size of the hands. These oversized hands that looked like they were carrying the weight of the world – protectors of all of us. They’re the ones we count on when our worlds literally go up in flames.
This sculpture so beautifully represents the eight men we honor today. This also means we’re not alone. That we have individuals who are strong, who are larger than life, who have huge hearts, who are willing to be there in our greatest time of need.
So when your loved one, your colleague, your friend took their oath to protect all of us, they probably expected to live a full life. But, they also took that oath fully aware of the risks. And yet, they stepped forward anyhow.
I assure you that there’s not a family member or friend who really expected to be here today, ever. But, I commend you from the bottom of my heart for the courage that it took you as family members to come here at the risk of opening up the wounds that perhaps are on the way to starting to heal. But, you needed to be here, and I spoke to some of the families, and I sensed this pride saying my loved one – my husband, my son, my brother, my cousin, my grandson – would want me to be here today.
You join 2,398 other members of the families of fallen firefighters. And our hearts ache over the loss you’ve had to endure because you’ve had to sacrifice more than most. It’s simply because of who you fell in love with or who you happened to be born in the same family with. You’re raised with someone, you lived with someone, who answered a call that so few of us answer. And there’s great pride in that.
You’re the ones whose dinner was interrupted, all the holidays. You’re the ones who had to attend the kids’ sporting events and school events sometimes alone, or you thought you were going together and, all of a sudden, that call comes in the middle of it and your loved one has to say, “I have to leave. They need me somewhere else.” And you sat there, representing both of you.
In fact, in 2015, there were over 100,000 firefighters in the state of New York, answering 1.4 million calls. That’s 4,000 per day; 168 incidents per hour; three times per minute. That’s a lot of disrupted dinners. That’s a lot of disruptions in a family. And you lived through that.
What it basically says is that when someone in our state needs help, we show up. We are there. We take care of each other.
Thus, in the name of your loved one whose name will be forever enshrined in this wall, I hope that their actions inspire the next generation to do exactly what they did. To say, “My community is worth fighting for. My community is worth protecting. When a house starts on fire, when there’s a car crash down the road, when natural disaster strikes, I want to be there to help because this is who I am as a person.” That is profound.
And so they are role models, not just to you and your family members, but to all of us – all of us in public service, all of us who sleep safely under the blanket of security that your family members and loved ones gave us. What their names represent on this wall is sacrifice and love of community.
Names like Michael Esposito, who followed the path of his brother Todd, who I met today. And he loved to bowl with his firefighter friends on Friday nights.
Bobby Knight, a well-respected advocate for firefighters here in Albany and in our nation’s capital.
Barry Miller, a generous man and so community-oriented.
Jack Rose, who showed his passion for firefighting at such a young age, he signed up on his 16th birthday.
Larry Sesso, a dedicated family man. I met his family today.
Arthur Stickney, Sr., an avid hunter and fisherman from long ago.
Charles Wallace, a dedicated public servant who first served our nation in the U.S. Navy.
And Richard Weisse, Sr., a third-generation firefighter, who loved playing Santa around the holidays. And I met the fourth generation, Richard and Trisha, and I know that they’re working on the fifth generation.
You are also the heroes, not just the names on this wall. To me, you, the families, are the heroes as well.
And to all of you who are wearing uniforms today, go back to your firehouses, go back to your stations, go back to your companies and tell those who are not here today what we said about them here in our state’s capital. [Tell them] that they are not taken for granted, that we respect their service, and we’ll always be there for them. And in cases like today, the families that are left behind.
So, in conclusion, if someone ever asks why you joined the fire service, let me tell you how Jack Rose responded.
Jack would have turned 20 a couple weeks ago. He summed it up as best as I’ve ever heard when he quoted the Bible. He said why fire service was so essential to his life: “No greater love hath man, than to lay down his life for his friends.” So simple, so powerful. No truer words have ever been spoken about the motivation that led your loved one, your friend, to the fire service and, tragically, to this wall today.
Today, we celebrate them, we honor them. We thank you, the families, who I saw in your faces are still hurting. There’s still a lot of pain, all ages. But know going forward that this is your place. You come here when you need comfort. You come here and let this be a place of refuge for you. And look out on this statue and know that this magnificent sculpture represents all that is good about mankind and all that was good about your loved one. Sit here and bask in the love and the gratitude of all New Yorkers.
Thank you very much.
In memoriam …
- Jack H. Rose, Captain, Mt. Marion Fire Department, Ulster County, December 19, 2015
- Barry G. Miller, Assistant Chief Bergen Fire Department, Genesee County, September 23, 2015
- Lawrence G. Sesso, Firefighter, Sayville Fire Department, Suffolk County, August 22, 2015
- Charles V. Wallace, Firefighter, Montgomery Fire Department, Orange County, February 3, 2015
- Richard D. Weisse, Sr., Firefighter, St. James Fire Department, Suffolk County, November 15, 2014
- Robert A. Knight, Firefighter, Sayville Fire Department, Suffolk County, May 1, 2014
- Michael P. Esposito, Firefighter, Baldwin Fire Department, Nassau County, May 18, 2011
- Arthur C. Stickney, Sr., Assistant Chief, Village of Malone Fire Department, Franklin County, September 2, 1942