Honoring fallen comrades

Nine Charleston, S.C. firefighters were honored Friday at the North Charleston Coliseum. Three Kitsap County firefighters attended the memorial service.  - Courtesy photo
Nine Charleston, S.C. firefighters were honored Friday at the North Charleston Coliseum. Three Kitsap County firefighters attended the memorial service.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Three Kitsap County firefighters traveled nearly 3,000 miles last week to pay tribute to nine of their fallen comrades.

Three International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) 2819 members traveled to Charleston, S.C. Friday to attend the memorial service honoring nine Charleston firefighters killed in a furniture store blaze June 18. The tragedy marked the single largest loss of firefighters’ lives since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“I went just to show my support for the Charleston firefighters in their time of need and to show the citizens of Charleston that even though we’re thousands of miles away we still support them,” said John Tollefson, Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue firefighter and IAFF 2819 spokesman.

Tollefson, fellow CKFR firefighter Steve Davison and a firefighter from North Kitsap Fire & Rescue were a few of the thousands of firefighters who traveled to Charleston to pay their respects to their fallen brothers.

“It was a good time in the sense that everybody was able to be together and show the fraternal bond of firefighters,” Davison said.

Davison serves as the IAFF 2819 color guard commander and travels to firefighters’ memorial services across the nation. He traveled to New York in 2001 to honor the firefighters lost on Sept. 11. Officials expected more than 30,000 firefighters and community members to attend the Charleston firefighters’ memorial.

“It was very somber and moving,” Tollefson said. “There was just a great outpouring of support for that community.”

People of the Charleston community frequently asked the firefighters where Kitsap County was located and were “flabbergasted” to learn the three men traveled such a great distance for nine of their fallen firefighters, according to Davison.

“The citizens of Charleston were just amazing and supportive of us being there,” Tollefson said. “They were grateful for us being there to support them.”

Firefighters had the opportunity to pay their respects to not only the nine firefighters, but also to their families.

“It was for us to be able to say goodbye and let the families know they aren’t alone and won’t be abandoned by firefighters across the country,” Davison explained.

Aside from attending the memorial service, the Kitsap County firefighters visited the charred furniture warehouse where the nine Charleston firefighters died.

“It was pretty somber,” Davison said. “It was such a tremendous loss especially from one department.”

While visiting the furniture warehouse, Davison and the firefighters watched a young boy cry as his mother told him about what happened to the nine firefighters in the building. He didn’t know any of them, but was deeply affected by their deaths.

“That showed what firefighters and police officers mean to communities and why it’s important for us to interact with community members,” Davison said.

Like firefighters across the nation, Tollefson and Davison both gained insight from the experience. They traveled back to Kitsap County and shared information with fellow firefighters in hopes of avoiding a tragedy of that magnitude.

“We talked to the survivors about what happened and came back and reminded each other of the little links in the chain to make sure a tragedy doesn’t occur here,” Davison said. “This could happen to us, this could happen today.”

The deaths of the nine Charleston firefighters reminded Tollefson to not take things for granted and the life and death situations firefighters encounter on a daily basis.

“Any type of incident like this makes me think about our day-to-day activities,” Tollefson said. “It makes you think of not taking stuff for granted and makes you more aware of things that can happen.”

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