Motorcycle Ride to Honor Firefighter 9/11 Victims
Thousands Expected for Tribute

By a Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 5, 2002; Page B02

After a wreath-laying ceremony at the Pentagon, 5,000 motorcycle riders are scheduled to take off today in the annual Red Helmets Motorcycle Ride as part of a weekend tribute to 446 firefighters who died in the line of duty last year.

This is the first memorial weekend to honor the 347 firefighters killed at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The contributions of 95 other firefighters who died last year in 34 states and four who died in previous years will also be recognized.

"It will be the largest memorial service for fallen firefighters in the history of the country," said Ron Siarnicki, executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, which coordinated the event.

Siarnicki said that more than 40,000 firefighters, family members and friends are expected to attend the memorial weekend, which was moved from the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Md., to accommodate larger crowds. At least 5,000 family members alone are expected. Firefighters from as far as Japan, Australia and Germany were also planning to come.

On average, about 100 firefighters die each year in the line of duty. Last year, about 7,000 people attended the weekend memorial, and the site on the campus of the National Fire Academy was filled to capacity.

"We moved it to Washington because it is the nation's capital," Siarnicki said. "And what better place than the nation's capital to do it?"

The weekend will include family activities, receptions and a candlelight service tonight at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at 400 Michigan Ave. NE. U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) will speak at the service at 7 p.m.

The Procession of Honor will begin at 11 a.m. tomorrow with firefighters lining Constitution Avenue between Seventh and 10th streets NW and from Seventh Street to MCI Center. Families of the fallen firefighters will ride buses through a "Sea of Blue" of uniformed firefighters from around the world.

Homeland security director Tom Ridge will give the keynote address at the memorial service, which will begin at 1 p.m. at MCI Center.

"Firefighters are the nation's first responders," Siarnicki said. "We do provide a lot of homeland security, and firefighters and emergency medical services are part of homeland security. There's an obvious tie."

The national foundation pays the transportation, hotel and meal expenses of the families of the fallen firefighters who attend the memorial weekend. This year's costs are expected to exceed $3 million.

"We honor the dead by caring for the living," said Hal Bruno, chairman of the foundation's board of directors. "This will be the greatest tribute ever paid to the fire service, and we want the families to be proud. Our charge is to make sure every firefighter's family knows that we are a grateful nation."