Article by: Jim Adams

The names of Minnesota's 207 fallen firefighters are etched on a newly dedicated memorial, a place at the Capitol to honor their sacrifice.   

Minnesota firefighters and their families, along with state officials, gathered Sunday to dedicate a new memorial at the State Capitol honoring the 207 state firefighters who have died in the line of duty since 1881.

The names of the fallen -- killed by backdrafts, collapsing walls and floors, flour dust explosions and traffic accidents -- are etched onto 86 slim columns in an open-air pavilion highlighted by a statue of a firefighter rescuing a child. The statue, created in 1986, had been displayed at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport baggage claim area.

The $720,000 memorial honors "our fallen firefighter heroes" and their families, State Fire Marshal Jerry Rosendahl told a crowd of about 4,000. He noted that the ceremony was held on the state's Fallen Firefighters Memorial Day, newly designated as the last Sunday in September. An annual service will be held on that day at the 6,000-square-foot memorial area, which includes a garden. The memorial was designed by the Leo A. Daly architectural firm.

About 1,000 family members of the fallen firefighters or their firefighter representatives listened as bagpipes played and accolades were bestowed by Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others.

Klobuchar noted that firefighters such as those responding to the 9/11 terrorist attack or the Interstate 35W bridge collapse a few years ago, run toward, not away, from fires and disasters to protect people and property.

"We can sleep better because we know that they are there," Klobuchar said. "We are honoring Minnesota firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice. To their families, we say, 'We are sorry [for your loss]'; to firefighters, we say, 'We are grateful for your service and pray for your safety.'"

Noting that she has lived a few blocks from a south Minneapolis fire station for 17 years, Klobuchar said she was reminded last week as alarms sounded at 4 a.m. that firefighters are always ready to hit the streets.

Dayton thanked the hundreds of firefighters present for their courage and dedication and said the 207 departed were "true American heroes" who "gave their lives for ours."

Honor guards and state officials presented flags that had flown over the State Capitol to the families or representatives of the 207 fallen. The flag recipients then shook hands with Dayton, Klobuchar and Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman.

The statue of a firefighter rescuing a child was sculpted by Douglas O. Freeman, who refinished it for outdoor display. A shroud over the statue was removed Sunday by Lois Conway, the granddaughter of the earliest fallen firefighter for whom a relative could be found by the Minnesota Fire Service. Her grandfather was St. Paul firefighter Patrick Fleming, killed in 1903.

The service ended with the traditional four sets of five bell tolls to honor fallen firefighters and the release of dozens of white doves that Rosendahl said symbolize a message of peace to the departed heroes.