Richmond Fire Chief Melvin Carter knows the dangers and challenges that come with being a firefighter. He’s attended dozens of funerals in his career.
But he also knows the importance of protecting the public — and remembering those who died while doing so.
“It is emotional, but you have to push through it,” said Carter, who has been Richmond’s fire chief since 2017.
On Thursday morning, the Richmond Fire Department, Richmond Professional Firefighters Association and International Association of Fire Fighters Local 995 hosted a memorial service at the Carillon bell tower in Byrd Park to remember and pay tribute to the fire and EMS community of central Virginia.
“Today we are honoring the men and women that paid the ultimate sacrifice, and their families,” Carter said during the ceremony. “You being here today is testament to their valiant efforts in our region.”
The ceremony opened with a presentation of colors, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem.
Diane Hall, the event’s guest speaker, spoke about her husband, Jerry Hall, who died of a heart attack in 2006 within a mile of their home — he was on his way to the firehouse.
“Before he died, somebody had asked him, ‘When are you planning to retire, Jerry? You’ve had all these health issues,’ ” she said. “And he said, ‘I’ll retire when it becomes a job. It is not a job for me anymore.’ ”
Hall’s speech was followed by the fire and emergency services prayers. Then the names of 73 central Virginia fire and EMS workers who died in the line of duty were read aloud.
The ceremony was closed with a benediction, retiring of colors and a standing ovation for those who died.
“It means a lot to us as members of the fire departments to gather here, and also to the families that those folks left behind,” Capt. Michael Oprandi said after the service.
Del. Scott Wyatt, R-Hanover, attended the memorial, where there was a table set up to honor Bobby Wyatt, his uncle who died after suffering a head injury in 1974. He was riding in a firetruck, headed to a night call at the Richmond Coliseum. His truck collided with another firetruck, and he died a few days later.
“The memories of these folks that have sacrificed to the pledge to protect and to serve as citizens of not just the city, the Richmond region,” Wyatt said. “Now, to honor them and keep their memories alive.”
Carter said he tries to see the memorial services as a celebration, which becomes more difficult when you know the people who have died.
“You have to focus on what can we learn from their sacrifices and supporting the family,” he said after the ceremony.
Carter said the department trains for the hazards that come with the job and avoids unnecessary risks. But, he echoed an old saying in the fire service: “We risk a lot to save a lot.”
“Unfortunately, we will be here every year because of the dangers of this profession, but nonetheless rest assured this profession will live on,” Carter said during the ceremony. “And a legacy of their strength and honor will live on.”