JEFFERSON CITY - What firefighters call the most tragic year they can remember for their occupation was the focus of a somber ceremony in the state Capitol's rotunda Tuesday.
"Anytime these men and women of such selfless heroism lose their lives all of us feel the loss," said Gov. Mel Carnahan before an audience comprised of family members of the seven firefighters who lost their lives this previous year as well as firefighters from across the state.
The loss of seven firefighters is high compared to other years, said State Fire Marshall Bill Farr.
"This is the most tragic year I can remember," Farr said.
Enacting the traditional Rose of Croix ceremony, representatives from the fire fighting Honor Guard laid a rose at the base of the speaker's podium for each fire fighter killed. A bell sounded from overhead shortly following the placing of each flower.
Eighty percent of Missouri firefighters are volunteers, Farr said. He pointed out that of the seven who died, five worked for no compensation.
After the ceremony, those attending were given a chance to donate money to the Firefighters Memorial Foundation, who say they will be erecting a tribute to Missouri fire men at the intersection of I-70 and highway 54, near Kingdom City.
A statue depicting a fireman resting on bended knee while holding his downcast head in his hand is scheduled to be unveiled later this year at the 5-acre site donated by the city, said Kenneth Hoover, vice president of the foundation.
"We want to be able to recognize them for the ultimate sacrifice of giving their lives," Hoover said.
Also planned for the site are four short walls bearing names of firefighters who have served in Missouri for ten or more years. An additional wall placed before the statue will be inscribed with the names of firefighters who died on duty.
The foundation will pay for the inscriptions on the wall bearing the names of the deceased, while names on the other walls must be paid for privately.
In the works also is a museum showcasing Missouri fire fighting history, which the foundation hopes to have erected within five years, Hoover said.