Annual IAFF Memorial
As told to Liz Simpson
Every year in September, the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) gathers from across the continent to honor their fallen. The event is held on third weekend in September and is intended to memorialize firefighters that have fallen in the line of duty that year and years in the past. The families of any man or woman who has been killed in the line of duty (including from injuries or illnesses associated with a past event) are invited to the memorial.
The memorial procession begins in downtown Colorado Springs and winds its way to Memorial Park. In the park, the names of the fallen are read aloud, one at a time, and the IAFF Honor Guard presents the colors.
This event is so significant that people travel from all over the US and Canada to participate as it is intended to help families gather, converse, and heal. One such person is Rose Foti, the mother of a two firefighters: her son Bobby died on 9-11 and his older brother who spent the months following 9-11 searching for him in the rubble. Rose was invited to the event and attend for a couple of years before she put her finger on what was missing… the event needed a family meal where people could sit together to share, mourn, and celebrate.
Rose comes from a big Italian family, so she decided that she would provide the meal everyone needed and could enjoy, gratis. For the first few years Rose prepared the meatballs by hand in her Manhattan apartment and flew them to Colorado Springs. Like any good Italian, she went to the meat packaging district to order special sausages and hand-ground meats, then hand rolled the meatballs herself. Once she arrived in Colorado, Rose would spend a couple days searching for the best breads and macaroni to accompany her made-from-scratch sauce. She pulled off a dinner for 1,500 people with only a few volunteers.
As the years have progressed, so have Rose’s efficiencies and volunteer staff, but her goal remains the same: to gather the families in remembrance and share… over meatballs.
Most people don’t know Rose but do know the final event, which happens after the memorial on Tejon Street. The street is closed and a procession of firetrucks drive down Tejon with the IAFF Pipe and Drum Band and stop in front of a full crowd at Jack Quinn’s. Quinn’s is packed with firefighters from all over the country and Canada plus family and friends and hangers-on. The pipe and drum band march through Quinn’s playing a few songs, including Amazing Grace, while the crowd cheers… loudly. It’s a way to heal and remember and toast those lives lost.
Colorado Springs is so fortunate to have this memorial that brings people from all over to visit because at any time anybody can go to Memorial Park and read those names and thank those fallen servants. It’s a very selfless job that they do.
Mark your calendars for the third weekend in September… the IAFF Memorial is an event you don’t want to miss next year.