The 2015 Fallen Firefighters Memorial: The Firefighter’s Prayer

By John S. D’Alessandro, FASNY Secretary

When I am called to duty, God, whenever flames may rage,
Give me strength to save some life, whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child before it is too late,
Or save an older person from the horror of that fate.

Ceremony is an integral part of fire service tradition. From our earliest days, we have always enjoyed a good parade and revered our memorial services.

On October 6, firefighters from around the state gathered in Albany to attend the 18th Annual New York State Fallen Firefighters Memorial Ceremony. Under the blue sky of a beautiful fall day, the words of the dignitaries echoed from the podium in front of the memorial wall.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul noted that thankful words are simply not enough. She reminded us that while we embrace the families that lost loved ones, we must also support the first responders who continue to give their time and energy. Commissioner of Homeland Security and Emergency Services John Melville spoke of his interaction with volunteer firefighters as a state trooper and his longtime respect for them.

In a symbol of brotherhood, FASNY President Robert N. McConville and New York State Professional Firefighters Association President Michael McManus placed the memorial wreath before the statue depicting the bond between firefighters.

Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout,
And quickly and efficiently put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me,
To guard my every neighbor and protect his property.

We honor our fallen brothers and sisters for many reasons. We carve their names on walls of stone to immortalize their sacrifice. We gather their families together to assure them that the brotherhood will always be there. We learn from their sacrifice to make our craft safer. And, just as important, we must fight the tendency to get lost in the ceremony and forget the reasons we have them in the first place.

And if, according to my fate, I am to lose my life,
Please bless with your protecting hand, my children and my wife.

The New York State Fallen Firefighters Memorial Ceremony is a day of reflection and remembrance. It should also be a day that energizes us to be better firefighters and first responders. We have placed the names of 2,398 of our fallen brothers and sisters on that wall so that their service will never be forgotten. If we truly want to honor them we should regard those names as 2,398 reasons to train harder, respond better and to always have each other’s backs.

Today we knelt for our fallen brothers. Tomorrow we will stand for their memory.

Tim Gunther (May 5, 2015) served the residents of his community with passion and dedication for 21 years in the City of Poughkeepsie Fire Department. On May 5, 2015, Tim responded to an alarm for a residential structure fire. After performing many tasks on the fireground, he felt ill and was transported to Vassar Brothers Hospital, where he suffered a fatal heart attack. Tim will be remembered as a kind and compassionate individual who was always willing to help someone in need. Moreover, to his brothers in the fire service, he will also be remembered as a fireman’s fireman.

Joseph “Junior” Sanford, Jr. (December 23, 2014) joined the Inwood Fire Department in 1996 as a member of Engine Company No. 1. Behind the explosive personality and infectious smile was an unending thirst for knowledge. The assistant chief excelled in many fire certification training courses and was regarded as an outstanding firefighter. During a house fire on December 19, 2014, an accident occurred that ultimately led to his passing.

Gordon M. Ambelas (July 5, 2014) wanted to be a firefighter from a young age. In 2001, his dream became a reality when he became a proud member of the FDNY. For 13 years, as a firefighter and lieutenant, he touched the lives of many and was proud of the men and women he served with. On July 5, 2014, he passed from injuries sustained while participating in the rescue operation of civilians trapped in a multi-alarm fire.

Fred Edwards (May 7, 2014) joined the Liberty Fire Department in 1967 and, over a 47-year career, served in the capacities of fire commissioner, trustee and lieutenant. In addition to being a dedicated firefighter, he also served as a member of the Hudson Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association and the Royal Order of the Red Vests. He passed on May 7, 2014, after participating in a training session.

Kevin J. Bristol (March 3, 2014) was an admitted “lifer” resident of the city of Peekskill. In fact, he could think of no better way of giving back than protecting its residents as a firefighter. He also served his nation with pride as a U.S. Navy corpsman for the Naval Reserves. In addition to his love of firefighting, he was also passionate about painting and sports. He is greatly missed by his immediate family and a large extended family of friends and relatives.

Ross E. Huffer (February 27, 2014) always had the need to help people around him in his blood. He joined the Nesconset Fire Department in 1968 and served the residents of his community for 48 years. In addition to being a skilled instructor, he also served as safety officer for the Smithtown Fire Chief ’s Council. He answered his last alarm on February 27, 2014.

Kevin E. Townes, Sr. (December 8, 2011) served honorably in the U.S. Marine Corps and worked for General Motors. In 1986, he changed his career course to become a firefighter for the City of Mount Vernon Fire Department. Kevin loved people and was especially dedicated to children, mentoring them whenever he could. The “gentle giant” faithfully served the people of Mount Vernon until his last alarm on December 8, 2011.

David E. Smith (April 11, 2006) was born in Poughkeepsie and moved to Middletown after he returned from service in the U.S. Army. His greatest passions in life were his family and the Howells Fire Co., where he served as chief, fire commissioner and in the fire police. David was known as “Mr. Middletown” because he knew everyone and everyone knew him. He answered his last alarm on April 11, 2006.