One of the greatest traditions the Westerly Fire Department has is its observance of Firemen’s Memorial Sunday every second Sunday in June. Beginning in 1899, this year’s service will mark the 122nd year the Westerly Fire Department honors and remembers all those who have given service to the Westerly Fire Department and the citizens of the Westerly Fire District. Due to the restrictions of the last year caused by the pandemic, the department could only make note of the day on its social media platforms. The remembrance has changed over the 122 years since it began. Early on, members would march from the station on Union St. to the Riverbend Cemetery where a service would be held and those who passed over the year would have their names and company affiliation announced. Prior to the day, the fire companies would send out members to the cemetery to mark the graves of their departed members. Most departments nationwide use their memorial service to honor those who have died in the line of duty. Westerly has had the misfortune of two line of duty deaths occur in its 150-year history. The first was Fire Chief George Egger on July 28, 1930. Chief Egger and the department were called to a barn fire in Potter Hill after returning from a large brush fire. While investigating in the hay loft of the barn, Chief Egger fell through an open hay loft door to the stalls below striking his head. He died later that night. The second line of duty death occurred on January 31, 1976. While operating at a structure fire on West St., First Assistant Chief John “Jake” Keena suffered a heart attack. Department members started immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation and Westerly Ambulance personnel took over and transported him to Westerly Hospital where he succumbed. Coincidently, both men were members of the Cyclone Steam Fire Engine Company #2. These men will forever be remembered by the members of the department.
Major changes were in store for Firemen’s Memorial Sunday. In June of 1949 the department dedicated the memorial stone which lies between the fire station and the town hall. The new stone had been the culmination of work led by a committee and a stone was carved from Westerly granite by the Bonner Monument Company. The parade would also introduce a new parade route stepping off from the station at 9:00 am led by the Westerly Band and following a route that would take it around Wilcox Park and back to the station where the ceremony would take place. Over the years a variety of chaplains from different denominations have conducted the service. The service includes the names of members who have passed with the tolling of a bell after each name is read. An open house follows the service with the station and apparatus open for inspection by the public. It also became the day that the individual companies would take their company photos with all members present and their current apparatus. All of these traditions continue to this day but the most important traditions, HONOR and REMEMBRANCE, will never change. This year’s ceremony will be held on June 13.
*Parade kicks off at 0900 from WFD HQ
*Right onto Broad St
*Left onto Grove Ave
*Left onto High St
*Right onto Broad St
*Left onto Main St
*Left onto Union St
The parade will conclude at WFD HQ where a brief ceremony will be held for our departed members, followed by light refreshments.