Across the U.S., there are thousands who answer the call to help others as part of our nation's EMS. Most in EMS aspire to help people; some make "the ultimate sacrifice:" losing their lives while working to help others.
The mission of the National EMS Memorial Service is to honor and remember those men and women of America's Emergency Medical Services who've given their lives in the line of duty, and to recognize the sacrifice they've made in service to their communities. To date, more than 500 have been honored.
Similarly, the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride (NEMSMBR) honors EMS personnel by organizing and implementing long-distance cycling events that memorialize and celebrate the lives of those who serve every day, those who have become sick or injured while performing their duties and those who have died in the line of duty. It also seeks to bring attention to National EMS Memorial Service.
The National EMS Memorial Service began in Virginia in 1991. Members of the Virginia Association of Volunteer Rescue Squads (VAVRS) realized that although there were law enforcement and firefighter memorials, there was no mechanism in place for the nation's air and ground emergency medical service providers. In 1992, they held the first ceremony to recognize the line-of-duty deaths of a number of Virginia EMS providers. Later that year, the VAVRS established the National EMS Memorial Service Committee, which established and organized the annual National EMS Memorial.
Roanoke, Va., was chosen as the Memorial’s original site because it was the home of the Roanoke Life Saving and First Aid Crew and Julian Stanley Wise, the founder of that organization, which was the first volunteer rescue squad in the U.S. The oak tree was selected as a symbol of strength, and the "Tree of Life" was born.
In 1993, the National EMS Memorial Service Committee became an independent organization. Over the ensuing years, the composition of the board of directors has evolved into one more reflective of America's EMS system as a whole, going from mostly volunteer Virginians to a mix of career and volunteer members from around the country.
In May 1998, the U.S. Congress recognized the National EMS Memorial Service as the official EMS memorial. The Service was held annually in Roanoke until the building it occupied closed. This year marked the first time it was held in its new home, Colorado Springs, Colo.
The event has grown each year. Now, it's no longer a single event, but rather a weekend of events centered on the ceremony. Events are open to the public.
The National EMS Memorial Bike Ride was held May 15–22 on the East Coast; however, the Muddy Angels kicked off a new event this year in honor of the NEMSMS move to Colorado. A one-day memorial bike ride took place on June 25.
Riders began their journey at the AIRLIFE Denver memorial park in Littleton, Colo., and followed a challenging route south to Colorado Springs. The 85-mile ride commenced after a ceremony that included an invocation, honor guard procession, the reading of all honoree names and the release of 26 doves commemorating the line-of-duty losses. Seventy-eight bike riders and as many support volunteers made the trek.
At the conclusion of the journey later that afternoon, riders and EMS vehicles from across the region were greeted with cheers as they rode in procession in front of the Antlers Hotel. Riders then lined both sides of the path that led honorees' families to the park adjacent to the hotel, making for a memorable entrance.
A short welcoming ceremony included guest speakers, bagpipes and an honor guard presentation, and it concluded with a barbecue. Many bike riders wore dog tags with the names of this year’s honorees on their ride and were able to meet the families for the first time and present them with the tags. The entire day was a display of humble respect.
The National EMS Memorial Service was held on June 26 at the First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs. The theme, "Friends in High Places" honored twenty-six individuals and their families. The non-denominational service drew hundreds of attendees in EMS uniforms from across the nation as well as political leaders and regional media. The poignant service also included bagpipes, honor guard salutes, memorable speakers, a National Moment of Silence and individual family presentations. Honorees' families were presented with three items:
• A U.S. flag that has flown over the Capitol, denoting the honoree's service to their country;
• A white rose representing their undying love; and
• A medallion signifying their eternal memory.
The program concluded with an EMS procession outdoors that included taps, and a multi-agency four helicopter fly-over that rumbled overhead before the honor guard retired the colors for the final time. New this year, the service was streamed via the NEMSMS Web site, and more than 600 were able to join via the Web. It was a touching event and a befitting tribute to our EMS colleagues.
National Moment of Silence
In concurrence with the moment of silence observed during the Service, a national moment of silence also took place across the country via countless EMS service radios. This gave those who were unable to attend the service a way to remember fallen colleagues.
The Tree of Life and the Memorial Book were on display at the reception immediately following the service. The name, agency and date of loss of each honoree are engraved on a bronze oak leaf, which is then added to the Tree of Life; the Memorial Book also contains a page for each honoree. These pages contain photos, biographies and agency patches for each.
Honor guard members posted watch at the memorial throughout the service. This year, several families of honorees from previous years attended and were able to view the memorial, some for the first time. Many took pictures while others created pencil tracings of a specific oak leaf from the display.
On the morning of June 27, the annual family breakfast, which brings the weekend to a close, was held at the Antlers Hotel. The venue is a much smaller than in years past and gives families a chance to tell their stories.
The breakfast offered blessings and insights from a few speakers. The program included the playing of a song and the reading of a poem—both dedicated to the memorial honorees and written by fellow EMS colleagues. It concluded with a candle-lighting ceremony, in which EMS personnel lit candles representing each honoree, until the entire room was aglow in candlelight: a sign of hope out of the darkness.