EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – Hoisted between two fire truck ladders, the American flag was waving proudly Sunday afternoon outside the Florian Gardens for this year’s Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service.
The Eau Claire Fire Department Honor Guard rang a bell 85 times during the ceremony for the 85 firefighters killed on the job in the United States in 2011.
One of those fatalities was from Wisconsin.
“It gives us the opportunity to pay tribute to the brothers and sisters that have made the ultimate sacrifice and gone before us. It's the least we can do for what they've given their communities and country,” said Lt. Joe Kelly.
Last year, the Honor Guard rang the bell 89 times for the firefighter deaths of 2010.
Lt. Joe Kelly said the decrease in deaths could the result of more training and better equipment.
While wearing the uniform comes with many dangers, firefighters WEAU talked to say they put it on every day because they want to serve the community.
“When we go to someone's house, it's the worst day they ever had. It's a privilege to go help those people in their time of need,” Lt. Kelly said.
Sunday's ceremony comes nearly one week after crews battled a shocking apartment fire on Water St. in Eau Claire.
Though all the firefighters made it out alive, two college students who lived there didn't make it.
Eau Claire firefighter Jeff Dahl said that deadly fire is still fresh in the memories of a lot of firefighters that attended the ceremony.
“They'll probably be on their minds for the rest of their careers, probably the rest of their lives. It's just something you can't forget,” Dahl said.
Capt. Brian Toonen said whether it’s one of their own or someone they’re trying to rescue dies, firefighters pull together.
“We're together for 24 hours so 1/3rd of our life is spent at the fire station. You really develop a bond with the guys and gals. It’s unlike any other profession,” Capt. Toonen said.