USA — An Adams County firefighter was honored at a national memorial service Sunday, along with 109 of his fallen brethren.
Adam E. “Coley” Cole, who died last October on his way to a forest fire in Michaux State Forest, was enshrined by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation in a Sunday ceremony in Emmitsburg, Md.
Cole’s name was put on a plaque on the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial, next to the names of 3,200 other fallen firefighters. The family of each firefighter was given an American flag, a badge and a rose in honor of the fallen.
The sacrifice of Adam and thousands of likeminded men and women was a common theme among the various speeches and prayers given at the 10 a.m. ceremony. Politicians and NFFF administrators ascended to the stage to thank the firefighters’ families for their own sacrifices, reading the stories of a handful of the fallen.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer thanked the families for their “profound sacrifice” of loved ones for the cause of saving lives, and read a brief address written by President George W. Bush.
“This is a fitting tribute to the valor these men and women show to you and to this country,” Schafer said on behalf of Bush.
Several speeches and musical tributes followed before the reading of Adam Cole’s name.
“We’re very proud and very honored,” said Annette Cole, Adam’s mother. She and her family commemorated her son’s sacrifice on Saturday, Oct. 4, with a candlelight memorial service that happened to occur on the anniversary of his 2007 death.
“I think there wouldn’t have been a better place to be for it,” Annette Cole said.
In the three years prior to Adam’s death, when he joined Buchanan Valley Volunteer Fire Department in Orrtanna, his family came to realize the brotherhood that firefighters share with one another. After his death, they saw firsthand how supportive that brotherhood is to the families of their fallen comrades.
“We’re not a firefighter family,” Annette Cole said. “Until he joined the fire company we didn’t realize how much of a tight-knit family they are.”
“It’s very overwhelming just to see the amount of fire personnel in uniform,” said Buchanan Valley Fire Chief Michael Spielman. “They’re giving their own time … to honor fallen firefighters.”
The Cole family has accepted several honors in memory of Adam, including the 2007 Firefighter of the Year award. Annette accepted them each time, so on Sunday Adam’s younger brother, Brock, accepted the flag.
Spielman escorted the family down the aisle past dozens of other grieving families. Brock Cole looked up silently as a NFFF member pressed the flag, rose and badge into his open hands.
His mother smiled slightly, paused, then walked slowly back to her seat, followed by her husband, Gary Cole.
“He went above and beyond,” Spielman said of Adam Cole, who took every class available to help himself become a better firefighter. “He wanted to help the community, that was his biggest thing.”
In 2006 Adam decided he wanted to make a career out of firefighting, applying to Washington, D.C.’s Fire and Emergency Medical Academy. On the morning of his death, Adam received word that he had been accepted, and made plans to fill out the paperwork that evening.
At 7:55 p.m. his pager buzzed, so he hopped in his car without buckling his seatbelt. On the way to meet his department’s tanker truck he crossed the center line on state Route 234 and hit an oncoming pickup trick head-on, becoming the third Adams County firefighter to die in the line of duty.
Franklin County has lost nine firefighters in the line of duty since 1936.
In 2007, 101 firefighters in 34 states died in the line of duty, either at the scene of an emergency or while traveling to or from the scene. They and nine others who died in previous years – a total of 110 – were added to the memorial honor roll Sunday.