by Martha Quetsch
Elburnâ€”Mike Stoffa knows how risky the work of a firefighter can be, having been one for many years, along with other family members. So he was honored to take part in the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend Oct. 3-4.
â€œIt’s some great recognition for people who have given so much,â€ said Stoffa, of Elburn.
The event, for families and co-workers of firefighters nationwide who lost their lives in the line of duty, takes place annually at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsville, Md.
This year, the event honored 122 firefighters who died from injuries on the job. The weekend included special programs and ceremonies for survivors, including one accompanied by 100 bagpipers.
â€œIt was quite a touching thing,â€ Stoffa said.
Stoffa was a firefighter for the Elburn Fire Department for more than three decades, retiring as a lieutenant. Currently, he volunteers for the Cortland Fire Department. Stoffa also is a member of the Illinois Firefighters Association board of directors.
He was among 172 firefighters selected to escort and represent families of fallen firefighters during the memorial weekend.
Stoffa has wanted to be a volunteer and finally was invited to take part in this year’s ceremony.
â€œI’ve been putting in my name for the past eight years,â€ he said.
He was among several hundred firefighters from throughout the country who asked to participate.
Stoffa’s father, George, was with the Elburn Fire Department for 35 years. His son, Todd, has been a DeKalb firefighter for 11 years; and his brother, John, was a lieutenant with the Geneva Fire Department. Stoffa’s daughter, Sarah, is an emergency medical technician who worked for Rescue Angels and now is with TriCom.
Stoffa said he remembers several times his dad’s life was endangered in the line of duty, and is thankful that he and the rest of his family of firefighters have never suffered a loss like those experienced by people attending the memorial weekend.
Some of the deceased firefighters’ survivors cannot attend the event for various reasons. Stoffa represented one of them.
â€œThe family I was selected for was unable to make it,â€ Stoffa said. â€œFor some, it’s just too emotional.â€
The fallen firefighter was Robert Roland, a volunteer with the Anderson Valley Fire Department. Roland died July 3, 2008, after experiencing respiratory distress the previous day while serving as a lookout on the Oso fire near Boonville, Calif.
In his firefighter dress uniform, he carried a folded American flag and a rose to place in a nearby chapel for the family. Each firefighter’s family was given one of the flags, all previously flown over the White House and over the National Fire Academy.
Photo: Mike Stoffa carried a flag and a rose for a surviving family during the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend in Maryland. Courtesy Photo