2022 was an incredibly special year for the IAFF Memorial. Never in the history of the IAFF Wall have they done two years together. It was unprecedented and made for the largest gathering in the IAFF’s history. After several years of waiting through the pandemic and watching things online, we finally physically came together for a weekend full of tributes.
On Saturday, September 17th, 2022, we gathered in person to honor 469 fallen firefighters from the United States and Canada. Over 8,000 loved ones came together on a beautiful Colorado morning to pay tribute to the fallen. The IAFF Fallen Firefighter Memorial Wall is located in the shadow of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, CO. The Memorial honors the sacrifice made by IAFF members who have given their lives in the line of duty or duty-related injuries.
Our own LAFD Fallen Firefighters were added to the more than 8,000 names already etched into the granite memorial wall. For 2020 & 2021 our own LAFD firefighters were Michael McOsker, Donald Wallace, Donald Welcker, James Como, Richard Watson, Glen Phillips, Ray VanBlarcom and Jose Perez.
Our LAFD families began arriving in Colorado Springs on Thursday and some on Friday and were warmly greeted by the Local 5 members at the airport. We cannot put into words the generosity that Local 5 showed all the families coming to Colorado Springs for the IAFF Memorial. They were at the airport to help with luggage, get the loved ones on the shuttle buses and then off to their hotels. At The Antlers, the host hotel, they were there to help with any needs the families might have. Mike Smaldino, former president, and member of Local 5 said, “We want to make sure these families really understand how much we care about them, and the last thing we want is for these families to come to Colorado Springs and just sit in their hotel rooms until the day of the ceremony.” Local 5 volunteers also drove the families around town and spent the time explaining everything they could about the weekend event. They even took the time to sit with the families when they were grieving for their loved ones. The IAFF, Local 5 and our LAFD family had a weekend filled with activities and time together. The Family Support Group, LAFRA Trustees and UFLAC members tried to ensure our LAFD families knew we were there for them. This year was slightly different than years past, but we tried hard to create time with our LAFD families. One important thing was for all of us to gather for dinner each night when we were in Colorado Springs.
Thursday night we gathered at the Phantom Canyon Brewery; it was located directly across the street from The Antlers. We had our own room on the third floor where we watched football, ate great food, played games and Valerie was busy making everyone balloon animals, which in typical fire fashion, took on a life of its own. On Thursday night, we visited the Memorial Wall at night. This year, due to many factors, only the Perez family made it out to the wall that night.
Friday the IAFF held a Family & Friends Reception at SwitchBack Stadium, just for the families. It had never been done before and our families enjoyed their time there. They had live music, games, and food. After the Family Reception, we all met up at the Urban Egg After Hours. This dinner is hosted by the Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association and our main goal was to allow our families to be together with the Honor Guard. It is a time for our LAFD families to meet their Flag Presenters again, to share stories of their loved ones, and to just be with our LAFD family. This year, the Pipes & Drums were located down the street from our restaurant, so we all walked down to see this tribute. You might have seen some live footage of this on social media, it was something special to see in person this year. Our night was supposed to end but several of us decided that ice cream was necessary so with the help of a few Trustees we found ice cream.
Saturday, the day of the Memorial, was a remarkably busy day. Our LAFRA Trustee’s met the families for breakfast and rode the shuttle buses with them over to the Memorial Park. Once at the park, the Family Support Group, Trustees, and UFLAC members escorted the families to their seats, making sure they had everything they needed for the ceremony. We made sure they had an etching of their loved one’s names and left behind any of their mementoes. The Memorial started with a ‘Ride to Remember,’ a procession led by fire trucks and the IAFF Motorcycle Group, where our own LAFD Hogs were in attendance. This year’s ceremony was a little different just due to the volume of names and loved ones in attendance. The Memorial was livestreamed, and you can find it on YouTube on the IAFF site.
Our LAFD families were presented an IAFF flag by our Honor Guard. Donald Wallace’s family was unable to attend so Chief Crowley was in attendance and received the flag on behalf of the Wallace family. Donald Welcker’s family was in attendance and Don’s wife, Sandy Welcker, received the flag. Michael McOsker’s family was in attendance and Michael’s wife, Shannon, received the flag. James Como’s son, Cody, was in attendance and received the flag on behalf of his family. Richard Watson’s wife was in attendance and Diana received the flag. Glen Phillips’ family was in attendance and Glen’s son, Cameron, received the flag. Ray VanBlarcom’s sister’s family was in attendance and Ray’s sister, Deborah, received the flag. Jose Perez’ family was in attendance and Jose’s wife, Heidi, received the flag. This year the IAFF was tasked with bringing two years together and they did an amazing job. After the Memorial ends, we try to get together for a LAFD family photo. This year was no exception, and with a little help, everyone was able to get that photo, along with many more. Thank you to Adam VanGerpen for taking these incredible photos. Saturday evening, we gathered for another dinner, hosted by IAFF. This year we shared our LAFD dinner with Boston Fire as well. President of IAFF Ed Kelley and VP Frank Lima hosted our dinner at Lumen8 Rooftop Social. We toasted our fallen loved ones and shared a beautiful evening with great food and lots of laughs. Jayce Perez was able to trade a few challenge coins with some of the Boston Firefighters and even challenge our Honor Guard with these new coins. After dinner we all walked down the street to the Massed Pipes & Drums Band Parade. It was a wonderful way to end the evening and weekend.
We would like to say a special thanks to our families that traveled to Colorado Springs. We hope we eased some of your burdens while you were there. It is one of the largest memorial tributes to Fallen Firefighters and it can be overwhelming at times. Each year, our goal is to come together as an LAFD family and walk you through it. We think that the IAFF did a beautiful job paying tribute to your loved ones and I hope you take away some special memories.
By Diane Vigil