EMMITSBURG, M.D. – In a moving ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 6 made to honor the sacrifice of families who lost someone in the line of duty, the late Richard Jenks, a 33-year veteran of the Pascoag Fire Department, had his name added to National Firefighters Memorial.
Seven firefighters and three family members from the Burrillville area attended the weekend event, held annually at the National Fire Academy. In its 38th year, the ceremony honored the 119 firefighters who died while serving their communities, including 92 who died in 2018.
“They honor firemen who have died in the line of duty,” explained Chris Toti, chairman of the Pascoag Fire Commission. “It was honoring one of our own.”
Jenks, a lieutenant with the department who also served his country for 24 years with the United States Air Force, died on Feb. 14, 2018 while fighting a chimney fire in town at the age of 72.
The fire commission authorized the group from Burrillville to travel to the event, and it was an experience attendees now say should be a priority for anyone involved in fire service.
“It was very humbling,” said Pascoag Deputy Chief Richard Peck.
Peck said the group of seven Burrillville firefighters arrived in Maryland on Friday, and were immediately put to work. Each firefighter was given a job, which they practiced non-stop until the ceremony Sunday morning.
The group also participated in a candlelight vigil Saturday night.
Five Pascoag firefighters were assigned the role of “flag presenters,” giving American Flags to family members of those who have passed.
Pascoag Lt. Tom Walker was asked to hand the flag to Jenks’ wife, Sharon Jenks. The late firefighter’s stepdaughters and son-in-law were also in attendance, as well as retired Pascoag Fire Chief Benny Colon.
Another four firefighters from Pascoag passed the symbolic flags to the families of firefighters from New York City.
Peck says he was surprised to see how many of those attending the event had no connection to the late firefighters.
“There were a lot of people there who had no personal attachment to anybody,” said Peck. “People from all over the country come to pay respects.”
The ceremony honored firefighters from states across the country – both paid and volunteer. One man who Peck spoke to had attended the memorial for 18 consecutive years.
“It shows support to the family more than just the firefighters,” he said.
On Sunday morning, Jenks’ name was read aloud before Sharon was given the flag.
Jenks’ name was also added to a plaque, which became part of the enormous memorial displaying names of others who have died in the line of duty. Authorities are able to compile the list of those to be honored each year through records kept by the Federal Fire Administration.
“Any time there’s a line of duty death, there’s an investigation,” explained Peck.
The deputy chief said that the group from Pascoag now plans to participate annually.
“I believe it’s important for everyone in the fire service, at some point in their career, to attend one of these weekends,” Peck said. “It truly explains what the family of the fire service is all about.”