(WISH) — Flags are flying at half-staff around the country to pay respects to fallen firefighters. Two Hoosier first responders were honored Sunday at a national memorial service in Maryland.
The two Indiana firefighters honored in Sunday’s ceremony didn’t die while fighting a fire, but instead from complications that follow firefighters for the rest of their lives well after their runs are over.
A local firefighter talked to News 8 on Sunday about that harsh reality while honoring two more heroes who risked their lives to save others.
Sgt. John Butler of Lafayette Fire Department died from cancer related to his work in the fire service. Jeffrey Holt of Lawrence Fire Department died after suffering from a heart attack following a training exercise.
“We promised our fallen we would remember. More importantly, we promised the family we would honor their fallen and respect that, their memory, we will keep their memory alive,” said Tom Hanify, president of the Professional Firefighters Union of Indiana.
Hanify says what happened to these men reminds him of a lesson he was told from a veteran firefighter early in his own career. “‘Kid, it’s a great job but you gotta know, it’s going to kill you.’ He said, ‘It is going to kill you fast, or it is going to kill you slow,'” said Hanify.
Development in gear and research has helped make progress in risk management for firefighters, but Hanify said there is still a long way to go to ensure our firefighters are not going to die from the lasting effects of their jobs.
“Everything you see in this room we are standing in, and including in your home, when it burns, the toxins that come off — the cancer and the carcinogens that come off of that — we don’t even know what they are,” said Hanify.
The mental strain firefighters are put through is just as grueling as the physical strain, according to Hanify.
“These things are horrendous things we come upon. Not just the accidents, the fires, the burns, but also the situations we walk in,” Hanify said.
But it’s the bond that these firefighters form with one another that make the risk worth it, he said.
“Until you have faced death, somebody else’s or yours, and you are in a situation and you fear, you fear that you will perish and you are relying on that other person and that person is doing the same to you,” he says.