Thousands of New York’s bravest lined the street outside the Upper West Side’s St. John the Divine Cathedral on Thursday afternoon to salute the family members of their fallen comrades, accompanied by a chorus of drums and bagpipes — a moving end to cap off a somber ceremony honoring the eight New York City Fire Department members who have died in the past year.
The FDNY members — numbering close to 5,000, according to a department spokesman — had packed into and around the cathedral on Amsterdam Avenue for the 112th Annual FDNY Memorial Service, presided over by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro. Each of the eight members honored — five firefighters, an EMT, a captain and a lieutenant — were remembered for their bravery and humility.
“Those who we honor today, we know they were heroes,” said Mayor de Blasio. “But if we said that to them at this very moment, I bet you’d hear the same line from so many: they were just doing their job. That humility is so striking because the actions that they take, that they took, are so extraordinary.”
Firefighters Steven H. Pollard and Christopher A. Slutman, as well as Lieutenant Brian J. Sullivan, had died in the line of duty. Pollard died rushing to help the victim of a traffic collision; Slutman, who in 2014 had rescued an unconscious woman from a burning building, was later killed in Afghanistan after joining the Marines; and Sullivan died of a heart attack following a grueling 24-hour tour of duty, “a reminder of the toll this job can take,” said de Blasio.
The other FDNY members who died this past year were firefighters Michael J. Reilly, Faizal Coto, Stephen J. Brady, EMT Adam Vazquez and Captain Michael C. Thomas.
The ceremony began with the laying of three wreaths — one honoring the deceased service members, one honoring the deceased EMT service member, and one honoring the department as a whole. At the ceremony’s end, the family members of the deceased were presented with medals of valor, folded FDNY flags, and letters of condolences.
“To the families of the eight members we honor today,” said Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro, “You have heard this statement again but I want to state it once more to each of you: we will never forget your loved ones. They matter greatly to this city and to the thousands of fellow members who gather here today.”
The service, always an important day for the city’s firefighters, carried a special significance for the grand venue — a devastating fire had ripped through the cathedral in 2001, then earlier this year a fire broke out in the crypt during Palm Sunday services. The church’s dean recalled the heroism of the firefighters who swept in to put out the flames in April of this year, and extended thanks and blessings to the department for their bravery.
“You showed up, and I cannot tell you how thankful I am that you did show up,” said the Right Reverend Clifton Daniel III, a bishop in the Episcopal church who was appointed dean of St. John the Divine last year. “You put everything out on the line for your fellow citizens who you don’t even know, perhaps, in a place you’ve never been before, but you put it all out there, and you show up. So on behalf of a grateful cathedral and a grateful city: thank you.”