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  4. Secretary Mayorkas Remarks to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service

Secretary Mayorkas Remarks to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service

Release Date: May 7, 2023

Today, Secretary Mayorkas delivered the following remarks at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial at the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Maryland. 

Lori, thank you very much for the kind introduction and thank you for your extraordinary leadership as our country’s Fire Administrator. 

I am privileged to be here today, to honor our fallen heroes and the heroism of their families and colleagues, so many of you here today.   

A career firefighter made this observation: 

“In fire, you can plan everything out to the minute, and a minute before that, everything changes.” 

Many professions involve work that is safe, steady, and predictable.  The work of a firefighter is not.  It is anything but.  It is defined by uncertainty and danger; not knowing when the call will come, what it will involve, when and how it will end.  Fire, flood, storm, crime, accident, and more.  The emergencies to which a firefighter responds are as varied as a life can be. 

One thing  is constant throughout it all: the qualities of courage, devotion to duty, service, and sacrifice that define the character of a firefighter.  Rare is the individual who runs towards danger, and rarer still is the individual who does so only to help others.  That is the firefighter.  That is the 144 fallen heroes we honor this weekend--heroes who gave their lives in the service of others.   

No one serves alone.  When a firefighter answers the call to action, their loved ones are answering the call too.  Every fallen hero we honor today was supported by a family who also gave of themselves, who sacrificed so much so that others could be safe and secure.  To the families of our fallen heroes, thank you for your service.   

We are grateful to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation for its partnership, including its shared commitment to preventing line-of-duty deaths and to honoring our fallen.  Together, our organizations co-hosted the U.S. Fire Administrator’s Summit on Fire Prevention and Control in October, where we developed the Fire Service National Strategy to address the critical issues facing the fire community.  I want to recognize Chief Siarnicki who is retiring in December after having served as the Foundation’s Executive Director for the past 22 years.  Under the Chief’s leadership, the Foundation has expanded support to the families of our fallen and has shaped the fire service’s safety culture in the face of increasing risks and challenges. 

Over the past two decades, the effects of climate change have intensified, transforming our environment.  According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, over the past 60 years, the top five years with the most wildfire acreage burned have all been since 2007.  There is no longer a wildfire season. Wildfires now burn in locations across the country every month of the year.    

Fires are increasingly a threat to our homeland security and you – our firefighters – need the personnel, tools, training, and resources to be able to meet these challenges.  Our Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response and our Assistance to Firefighter grants provide funds directly to fire departments to hire, maintain, equip, and train their frontline personnel.  This year we will award $684 million through these two grant programs, helping fire departments like the College Park Volunteer Fire Department here in Maryland, which is using grant funds to grow its program to attract and retain firefighters.  

This morning before the ceremony, I walked among the thousands of fallen heroes’ names guarded by the eternal flame in the Fallen Firefighters Memorial. 

I also viewed the 9/11 Memorial where we honor the 343 New York firefighters who lost their lives that day and the many heroes who have died in the years since due to illnesses and injuries associated with the rescue and recovery operations. 

The Department of Homeland Security was born out of the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks; the heroes who lost their lives are never far from our thoughts.  

More than 20 years later, the losses continue.  Last fall, the FDNY reported that the number of firefighters who have died from cancer and illnesses due to their 9/11 response and recovery operations will soon exceed the number killed at the World Trade Center on that day.

This terrible news reflects a risk faced by the entire fire service:  cancer is the leading cause of death for firefighters.  Studies continue to make clear the connection between occupational exposure and increased risk of cancer.

We must do more to drive down this risk for the fire service.  The Department of Homeland Security, through the U.S. Fire Administration, is proud to do this work with you.  

We honor our fallen heroes and their families through days of commemoration like this weekend.  We honor them through the work we do every day. Their legacy of service lives on, never to be forgotten.  

It is now my honor to introduce the President of the United States, Joe Biden.  During his 36-year career as a Senator, President Biden was a founding member and chairman of the Congressional Fire Service Caucus.  He is also the President Emeritus of the Delaware Volunteer Fireman’s Association.  There has never been a greater champion of the fire service than our President.

Thank you. 

Last Updated: 05/07/2023
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