Bravest mourn fallen heroes


WASHINGTON - Hundreds of firefighter families gathered yesterday in the nation's capital to comfort each other and to honor 446 of the country's Bravest - the vast majority from New York - who gave their lives last year while battling blazes.

An average of about 100 firefighters die in the line of duty each year in America, but last year's terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, which killed 343 members of the Fire Department, gave the annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend staggering significance.

"We've been to so many memorials, and we still haven't had a funeral yet," said retired New York Fire Department boat pilot Bertrand Barry, who lost his 35-year-old son, Arthur Barry, a member of Ladder 15.

"This weekend will mean more tears for us," said Arthur Barry's mother, Audrienne Barry, of Staten Island, as she ate breakfast yesterday with her grandson, Barry Skarda, 10. "All we have are two inches of bone."

The event had to be moved from its tiny headquarters in Emmitsburg, Md. (population 2,290), this year to accommodate all the firefighters and their families - most of them wearing T-shirts bearing the names of their loved ones' firehouses: Engine 4, Ladder 46.

Many activities

Many came to participate in an array of activities: group counseling sessions, private White House tours and last night's candlelight service at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

"No matter where you look in the basilica, everybody here has gone through or is going through what I am going through," said Susan Tegtmeier, sister of Paul Tegtmeier, an Engine 4 firefighter who died on Sept. 11.

"It makes a big difference. You feel that you are not the only one."

A memorial service will be held today at the MCI Center.

The event's organizer, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, raised more than $3 million to pay for each firefighter's family to attend. Many people brought their whole families - children, parents and siblings - to the national event.

In many ways, the Washington event is a preview of the FDNY's Memorial Day event on Saturday, when Madison Square Garden will be filled with relatives of the lost firefighters and active-duty and retired FDNY members. Outside the Garden, 50,000 more firefighters from around the world are expected to watch the proceedings on giant video screens.

Some people, knowing what's in store next weekend, chose to bypass most of the intense counseling sessions yesterday, opting for sightseeing or a motorcycle procession at the Pentagon. Many said they wanted to try to have fun.

"I know I need the counseling, but I just want to have a normal day with the girls and try to have fun," said Laurie Miller, 35, wife of Douglas Miller, 34, of Rescue 5, after returning from a White House tour.

'Miss your smile'

Miller and her three girls, Elizabeth, 7, Rachel, 6, and Katie, 4, signed a poster called Remembering that was laid out on a table at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, which housed the New York delegation. She wrote:

"Doug Miller, All your girls miss your smile & Warm heart. We love you."