Firefighters traditionally tolled a bell to signal the end of an emergency and that they had returned home from a fire call. The bell that tolled in Bryan on Wednesday sounded for similar reasons, as thousands congregated to celebrate the lives of fallen firefighters Lt. Greg Pickard and Lt. Eric Wallace.
Approximately 3,000 community members, family, friends and first responders from around the nation and Canada joined in the four-hour memorial held at the Central Baptist Church in College Station.
"In each of the Bryan fire stations this slogan is displayed: 'Everyone Goes Home,'" said Bryan Mayor Jason Bienski, one of the speakers at the memorial. "Lt. Eric Wallace and Lt. Gregory Pickard have gone home to a very special place -- they have gone home to the Lord and savior Jesus Christ."
Bryan Fire Chief Randy McGregor mourned the loss of "two devoted members" of the fire department.
"The impact these men had will go on for years in our organization," McGregor said. "These men had such an impact on every one of our persons sitting out here, and I know that they will carry on the legacies of everything they brought to us."
Veteran firefighters Pickard, 54, and Wallace, 36, died from wounds sustained fighting a Friday-night fire at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Groesbeck Street -- two of only three line-of-duty deaths in the 141-year history of the department.
Fire officials said a preliminary investigation determined a 10-foot fan cord running from the dining area ignited a number of items in the kitchen, one of which was a first aid kit.
Pickard was one of three firefighters deployed to rescue Wallace, who was sent into the burning building to ensure no one was inside and later signaled he was low on air.
Two others who entered with Pickard, firefighters Ricky D. Mantey Jr., 30, and probationary firefighter Mitchel Moran, 21, remain in serious condition at the University of Texas Medical Branch Blocker Burn Unit in Galveston. They watched the ceremony from their hospital rooms.
The morning started with a 7 a.m. procession of more than 150 fire trucks from around the state that stretched 2.8 miles long and ended at the church. Dawn broke in the cool, muggy morning through flashing red and blue lights.
The memorial featured the tolling of the bell, Amazing Grace on the bagpipes and songs by the Texas A&M Singing Cadets.
Family members of Pickard and Wallace were presented with American flags flown over the U.S. Capitol and medals of honor given by the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Family, friends, and the collage of navy, blue and white uniforms laughed together and cried together as the men who knew Pickard and Wallace best shared stories before the crowd.
They reminisced about Pickard's love of golf and cake, and Wallace's fondness for paramedic duties and pranks. Wallace devoted much of his time to the children's Fire Gator Camp, and Pickard served as the rescue division commander during the 1999 Texas A&M bonfire collapse.
"On behalf of the Bryan Fire Fighters Association Local 1204, I promise that Lt. Pickard and Lt. Wallace's legacy will be carried out through us," said Jason Nored, local IAFF president. "Greg and Eric will be missed, but they will never be forgotten."
Bryan Fire Department Lt. D.J. Capener served as master of ceremonies, and former Chief Mike Donoho and Lt. Gerald Burnett spoke on behalf of the families. Texas Sen. Charles Schwertner, Rep. Kyle Kacal and College Station Mayor Nancy Berry attended.
In addition to Bienski and McGregor, U.S. Rep. Bill Flores and IAFF general president Harold A. Schaitberger spoke.
"The magnitude of these events weighs heavily on all of us," said Schaitberger, who made the trip down from Washington, D.C. "These tragic losses just underscore how dangerous this job is, how fragile life is and, yet, how close our profession is during these times of suffering."
A private funeral for Wallace is set for Thursday morning, and a funeral for Pickard on Friday will be open to the public.
Written by The Eagle
Courtesy of YellowBrix - YellowBrix