Being at a fire department event without her husband was “surreal” for Kate Muñoz, 49.
Her husband, Henry Muñoz, died in July 2021 aged 50 after a two-year battle with brain cancer, linked to his 20 years as a firefighter. He was a firefighter with the Los Angeles Fire Department when he died.
“Every fire we’ve seen was with our husbands, so it’s strange to be here without them,” Muñoz said. “But we are very honored that our husbands are here in any capacity and are honored here.”
More than 700 family members, from as far away as Alaska and the U.S. Virgin Islands, gathered at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg on Saturday for a candlelight service in remembrance of 148 fallen firefighters.
The candlelight service was held on the eve of the national memorial service for fallen firefighters.
Among those honored was Joshua Laird, Battalion Chief, Frederick County Fire and Rescue Services Division. Laird died on August 11, 2021 while fighting a two-alarm house fire on Ball Road in Ijamsville. He was 46 years old.
Laird’s widow, Sara, attended Saturday’s service.
In addition to Muñoz, four widows whose husbands were firefighters with the Los Angeles Fire Department traveled with their families to Emmitsburg.
Heidi Perez, 44, lost her husband, Jose, in July 2020 after he died of COVID-19 at the age of 44. He was a firefighter for 17 years and was a firefighter and paramedic with the Los Angeles Fire Department at the time. of his death.
Perez said it was an honor to be at the candlelight service on Saturday. It was a feeling shared by the others she was with.
“It was a beautiful ceremony and we are very proud to be here,” said Michelle Ruedy, 55.
Her husband, John, or ‘JR’, died in May 2021 aged 54 from lung cancer, which he contracted from exposure to smoke during 32 years as a firefighter . He was Captain II of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Michelle Ruedy’s children also traveled with her, including her 23-year-old son Derek.
“Being part of this community is really special,” said Derek Ruedy. “It’s a lifelong group that you’re part of across the county. And it’s nice to hear different stories, meet different people, and the legacy they have will last a lifetime.”
As dusk fell during Saturday’s ceremony, an electric candle of remembrance was lit, and family and friends of the 148 honored deceased firefighters touched candles with those seated next to them to share the electric light and honor their loved ones.
Families also lit candles inside bags which they decorated with photos of their missing loved ones and notes for them. The bags lined a walkway leading from a stage to the memorial.
Families gathered for the ceremony also said people should be sure to honor the firefighters who continue to serve their communities every day.
“The [are] people day in and day out who sacrifice their lives and leave their families to be able to help their community,” said Derek Ruedy.
“They’re all heroes,” her mother said. “They are definitely all heroes.”
Follow Jack Hogan on Twitter: @jckhogan
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