It’s likely every firefighter’s mantra, and for them, it’s no fleeting sentiment. It’s like a code of conduct, a way of life, words they live by. When firefighters say, “We will never forget,” they mean it.
It’s nearly impossible to forget something that is felt so deeply, the moment the news reaches the ears and touches the heart with such a profound sadness. A firefighter remembers when they hear that a fellow firefighter has fallen in the line of duty. They honor the fallen and promise the families that they will never forget their names, lest they one day become the fallen and the forgotten.
Former Rochester Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Morse remembers the exact moment and the ones that followed when he heard about the Charleston Super Sofa Store fire in Charleston, South Carolina on June 18, 2007. Morse, who now resides in Florida, recalled how he had been cherishing every moment that led up to hearing the terrible news as he had been celebrating his wedding anniversary all day long with his wife, Candy. When he went to bed that night, he did so knowing that there were line of duty deaths, with five people reported missing and presumed dead. When he woke up, he learned that nine fellow firefighters had lost their lives.
“That’s pretty hard to take,” said Morse. “I felt this overwhelming something. … There was something in my heart that wanted to do something for them. A way to show the family that we haven’t forgotten.”
On August 24, he did do something, as did seven other firefighters who banded together to form and participate in Southern New England’s first ever Brotherhood Ride that began in front of the Firefighters Memorial on Hartley Road and four days later – over 300 miles – finished in Falmouth.
Riding through Massachusetts and Rhode Island, eight firefighters rode their bikes wearing the names of 14 line of duty lives lost over the past year, making stops in each of their towns to meet with family and their fellow firefighters.
Rochester Firefighter Andy Weigel organized the inaugural ride after riding last year in the Florida Brotherhood Ride. For Weigel, the positive impact such a ride had on the families of the fallen is hard to explain. “There’re no words that can do it justice,” said Weigel.
“Unfortunately, life goes on and those guys,” said Weigel, “their names get pushed to the wayside.”
The group met at the Rochester fire station at the corner of Pine Street and walked their bikes up Hartley Road beneath an American flag hanging from Marion’s Engine 1, and over to the Firefighter’s Memorial, solemnly led by a bagpiper and slowly followed by a line of fire trucks. The public stood by and watched, many of them filming from their smart phones, and assembled for a short opening ceremony and blessing.
“This was a dream we had,” said Morse. “And to think that dream could turn into what it’s turned into today is unbelievable.”
Joining Weigel from Rochester were firefighters Kevin Richard, Rob Dias, and Brandon Dion. Joining Morse from Florida were Ralph Longoria and retired Boston firefighter Manny Arruda, and firefighter Craig Malchow of Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
“To think that I’d be coming down Pine Street followed by a bagpiper,” said Morse. “This dream has just become so involved with so many people on the department, and I just can’t thank Rochester enough for wanting to do something like this and bringing this full circle.”
For all eight riders, the ride wasn’t about them; it was about those who fell in the line of duty. It was a way to show the families that they cared, that their loved ones truly wouldn’t be forgotten, and that someone was carrying those messages with them during every one of those 316 miles.
“Whatever pain and whatever heartache we go through the next four days is nothing compared to what those families are still going through to this day,” said Morse.
Reverend Richard Crowley said during his blessing, “Judgment is not doing amazing things, it’s responding to everyday needs and people, and that’s what you’re doing here today.”
The group made regular updates on social media during the four days of their ride, posting video footage of their various stops along the way and the myriad ways others showed their support for the riders. And as serious an event as this one was, there were times that called for a good laugh, like when Kevin Richard was the first to take a tumble from his bike and had to wear the “pink panties.”
And finally, on August 28, the group made its final post to Facebook with an update on their fourth and final day of the ride. “Our mission is now complete and we laid the 14 heroes to rest,” the post reads. “We reminded everyone along the way of the sacrifices they made to protect their communities and showed the ones closest to them that they will NEVER be forgotten.”
Perhaps we too will remember their names: David Boislclair, Pawtucket; Robert Davis, North Hampton; Lt. Kenneth Donnelly, Lexington; Lt. Kevin Lang, Cranston; Deputy Chief Stephen Porciello, Arlington; Anthony Spano, Chicopee; Joseph Toscano, Watertown; Capt. Gregory Clements, Falmouth; David Diloria, North Providence; Chief Stephen Frye, Montgomery; Robert Lavallee, New Bedford; John Mulcahy, III, Fitchburg; Lt. Richard Stevens, Devens; K-9 Koda, Brockton Police Department.
By Jean Perry