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Fire and honor: AFD members attend memorial dedication service

Eleven firefighters from Alexandria Fire Department attended the recent unveiling of the memorial Minnesota's fallen firefighters. Pictured are (front to back) Joe Cuperus, Dan Sieve, Jason Schmidt, QJ Warrey and Kris Pierce. They were carrying flags to dignitaries, who in turn presented those flags to the families of the fallen firefighters. (Contributed photo)1 / 3
This memorial statue is now on the grounds of the State Capitol in St. Paul. It depicts a firefighter rescuing a child. (Contributed photo)2 / 3
Dennis Stark, left, attended the 31st annual National Fallen Firefighter Memorial Weekend in Maryland. He was posted as Honor Guard at the memorial. (Contributed photo)3 / 3

Since 1881, 207 Minnesota firefighters have died trying to save other lives. On Sunday, September 30, those brave people who died in the line of duty were honored at a ceremony at the State Capitol.

Several firefighters from Alexandria were able, and honored, to take part.

"Our guys have taken a great deal of pride in being part of that whole ceremony," said Alexandria Fire Marshal Dennis Stark. "It means an awful lot to them and a lot to the community too, I think."

The tribute was held the last weekend of September in conjunction with the recently-designated Fallen Firefighters Memorial Day.

A memorial in honor of the fallen fighters was previously housed in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. That memorial was decommissioned in March and recently moved and upgraded to its new home on the grounds of the State Capitol in St. Paul.

The 6,000-square-foot memorial depicts a firefighter rescuing a child from a burning basement. Surrounding him are several poles that include the names of the fallen firefighters. Engraved on the wall are the names of every fire department in Minnesota.

In a poignant tribute, as the name of each fallen firefighter was read, an honor guard carried a flag to a dignitary from Minnesota, who in turn presented it to their family. The members of the Alexandria Fire Department who attended were part of this presentation.

According to Stark, more than 4,000 people attended the memorial service.

"It was a very historic and very moving event for me personally, as well as for the fire service in the entire state of Minnesota," Stark said. "When you see 2,000 firefighters in full dress, it really hits you."

In addition to taking part in the state event, Stark also attended the 31st annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend, October 5 to 7 in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

That event is a tribute to all firefighters who died in the line of duty during the previous year nationwide. It includes a program honoring survivors and co-workers, along with public ceremonies for the 85 fallen firefighters in 2012, one of whom was from Cambridge, Minnesota.

"It was a very emotional experience," Stark concluded.