Beneath a blistering sky, roughly 200 people attended the 19th annual Kentucky Fallen Firefighter Memorial Service on Wednesday at Juniper Hill Park.
Some stood in the shade while others sat on chairs and bleachers in front of the granite obelisk memorial topped by a stainless steel Maltese cross, the national symbol of firefighters. Below the memorial, wreaths of flowers lined the wall etched with names of fallen Kentucky firefighters.
“We recognize firefighters who have been killed in the line of duty, and since 2017, we do cancer-related deaths,” said Bruce Roberts, division director of the Kentucky Fire Commission and master of ceremonies for the event. “We’ve got probably 200 names on the wall. They go back all the way to the early 1900s, the ones that we can find.”
A light breeze blew in, momentarily cooling off the crowd from the record-setting heat and sending leaves floating to the ground. Bagpipe players and a drummer from Louisville and Kentucky United Pipes and Drums marched across the field, playing a plaintive melody.
Dr. David Greenlee, a retired Lexington firefighter, sang the national anthem.
“This is always an honor to do this every year to honor those that have paid the ultimate price to protect us all,” he said.
After an opening prayer by Kentucky Firefighters Association Chaplain Jeff Rickles, several speakers gave brief remarks, including Frankfort Mayor Bill May and Franklin County Judge-Executive Huston Wells.
May told the families of the fallen, “My heart is heavy for the loss that you all have felt. There’s nothing I can do to make that easier.”
John Beatsch of the Kentucky Firefighters Association told the crowd: “Firefighting is hard. Being the family of a firefighter might be even harder."
Toward the end of the hourlong ceremony, a man sitting on the bleachers collapsed. Nearby firefighters instantly stabilized the man, gave him water and drove him away in a golf cart for treatment.
The event continued with Roberts reading the names of the six Kentucky firefighters who have died since last year’s memorial service: Jeff Crossfield, Paris Fire Department; Richard Gossman, McMahan Fire Department; Ronald Helton, Firebrick Fire Department; Arnold “Ray” Hollingsworth, West Knox Fire Department; Thomas McBride, Campbellsburg Fire and Rescue; and James Settles, Stanley Fire Department.
Relatives of the six men came forward and each family received a plaque, ribbon and rose.
The ceremony closed with a final prayer and the strains of “Amazing Grace” playing on bagpipes.
Among the attendees were members of several Kentucky motorcycle clubs. Most of the bikers are current or former firefighters.
“I’ve been coming since they opened it 19 years ago and I’ve come every year,” said Keith Price, assistant chief of Parkers Mill Fire Department in Somerset. “We ride today in honor of their service that they’ve done.”
Clad in a sleeveless leather biker jacket, Price said: “If someone dies in the line of duty, their name is put on the wall. A couple years ago, we actually had a ceremony that we put no names on the wall, and that’s what you shoot for — no names on the wall."