By Carla Branch
The tall stone obelisk at the entrance to Ivy Hill Cemetery has stood as a memorial to fallen Alexandria firefighters since 1856. It was erected in memory of seven firefighters who died while fighting a fire on Alexandria’s waterfront on Nov. 17, 1855. Today, the obelisk was draped in black as a procession of fire equipment brought Alexandria Paramedic Joshua Weissman to his final resting place at Ivy Hill. Weissman died as the result of injuries he sustained while responding to a car fire on I-395 last week. He is the 16th Alexandria firefighter to give the last full measure and die in the line of duty. Weissman was 33 years old.
The flags of the United States, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the City of Alexandria, the Alexandria Fire Department and Ivy Hill Cemetery flew at half-mast today around the Circle of Honor, where the obelisk and friendship fountain stand in tribute to fallen firefighters. Two ladder trucks with ladders up, provided an archway for the funeral processional as it entered the cemetery.
Weissman’s final journey began this morning as a processional of firefighters from as far away as Canada accompanied his casket from Everly-Wheatley Funeral Home to Beth El Hebrew Congregation. After the service at Beth El, the procession made its way to Ivy Hill Cemetery on King Street.
Hundreds of mourners stood in the rain and participated in the graveside traditional ceremony. A bugler played TAPS and a bagpiper played Amazing Grace. Finally, Alexandria firefighters and paramedics said a final farewell to their friend with the traditional bell ceremony and Firefighters Prayer.
According to the International Association of Firefighters' website: In the past, as fire fighters began their tour of duty, it was the bell that signaled the beginning of that day’s shift. Throughout the day and night, each alarm was sounded by a bell, which summoned these brave souls to fight fires and to place their lives in jeopardy for the good of their fellow citizen. And when the fire was out and the alarm had come to an end, it was the bell that signaled to all the completion of that call. When a fire fighter had died in the line of duty, paying the supreme sacrifice, it was the mournful toll of the bell that solemnly announced a comrade's passing.
We utilize these traditions as symbols, which reflect honor and respect on those who have given so much and who have served so well. To symbolize the devotion that these brave souls had for their duty, a special signal of three rings, three times each, represents the end of our comrades’ duties and that they will be returning to quarters. And so, to those who have selflessly given their lives for the good of their fellow man, their tasks completed, their duties well done, to our comrades, their last alarm, they are going home.
FIRE FIGHTER’S PRAYER
When I am called to duty, God
Wherever flames may rage
Give me strength to save a life
Whatever be its age.
Let me embrace a little child
Before it is too late
Or save an older person from
The horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert
And hear the weakest shout,
and quickly and efficiently
To put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling
To give the best in me,
To guard my friend and neighbor
And protect their property.
And, if, according to your will,
While on duty I must answer death’s call;
Bless with your protecting hand
My family, one and all.