The Florida Cabinet joined firefighters as well as families of the fallen for a groundbreaking ceremony of a new Florida Fallen Firefighter Memorial on the grounds of the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee Tuesday.
With Bagpipes to mark the beginning and end of Tuesday’s groundbreaking, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater officiated the ceremony in his capacity as the state’s fire marshal.
“The time for a memorial on our Capital grounds to recognize 181 lives of firefighters lost in the line of duty dating back to 1885 is long overdue,” said Atwater.
And, he called out the names of several fallen firefighters.
“Rufus Jay Harrison died in the line of duty 1990 from Wetumpka Volunteer Fire Department, Thomas Santner died in the line of duty 2005 North Bay Fire District. JJ Curry died in the line of duty 2007. Here wife Kristen, son Owen, and mother Darlene, Volusia County Fire Department,” Atwater stated.
In late 2007, when he was only three-years-old, Owen
Curry lost his dad, a Volusia County firefighter, in a training exercise. Now, a 10-year-old boy, he stood side by side with his mother in breaking the ground for a memorial that—upon its completion—will include the name of his father, John “JJ” Curry.
Owen’s mother, Kristen, has been to the Capitol before, appealing to the Legislature years ago to create a law to allow families of firefighters killed during exercises to get death benefits.
“And, that was definitely was an experience that will stay with us forever. It’s something good that came of a bad situation. And, I just couldn’t ask for more. And, now we’re getting ready to break ground on something that’s just amazing and that we will carry for life. And, we can come back here with our grandchildren and their grandchildren and it’s always going to be here, and it’s always going to be honored.”
And, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, speaking first to Owen, echoed similar words.
“Owen, you probably never really knew your dad, but one day you’re going to be bringing your kids here
and they’ll be bringing their kids here to see this and what a hero your dad was,” said Bondi. “And, I know it’s difficult for all the families here today and to all of our great firefighters, but this is such a beautiful tribute to great men and women. And, so, it’s very positive thing. I know it’s difficult, but it’s going to be so positive.”
Following the groundbreaking, Florida Division of State Fire Marshal Director Julius Halas thanked the Florida Cabinet for their support on its project—which he says is a long time coming. Last year, the body approved a resolution authorizing the memorial.
“And, I just hit 40 years in the fire service, and we have been wanting to see this for 30 years…we’ve been talking about this,” Halas recalled. “And, Governor, Attorney General, Commissioner, and my boss [CFO Atwater], your support has made this a reality. There have literally been thousands of firefighters that have been waiting on this.”
The memorial is expected to be finished in April, featuring sculptures and knee high walls—in addition to the names of the fallen firefighters.
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