The Wisconsin State Firefighters Memorial is located on the Wisconsin River, on the south side of Wisconsin Rapids, between it and Port Edwards. It is located on the Wisconsin River, on the south side of Wisconsin Rapids, between it and Port Edwards. "The vision was to create a park with a natural and scenic setting to house a memorial to our firefighting heroes from across this great State of Wisconsin. The serenity of the setting allows park visitors to be alone with their thoughts and emotions and at the same time realize that their loves one will never be forgotten." Mission accomplished.
July 24, 2011
The project to build this memorial began in 1994 when the governor approved Wisconsin Rapids as the site. The site was selected because it is peaceful and somber, adjacent to the Wisconsin River. Hansen Park provided tall trees and rolling terrain to add to the tranquility and serenity of the location. Wisconsin Rapids was also selected to position the memorial in the center of the state, making it easier for more people to see it.
The Wisconsin State Firefighters Memorial, Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit charity organization and sought donations for the project. There is a Legacy Stone Program, which allows individuals, groups or business organizations to purchase a perpetual piece of the memorial. The Legacy Stones are solid granite and are available for purchase in two sizes; stones includes three lines of engraved text.
Of course, the American flag flies high over the park. Our firefighters would have it no other way. They are some of this country's greatest patriots.
The centerpiece of the park is a statue of three life-sized firefighters engaged in a rescue situation. One firefighter is dragging a disabled firefighter with another nearby ready to help.
I had spent some time a few years ago covering the service and sacrifices made by our firefighters and EMT professionals. As a former career military man, I was awed by their training, commitment and courage. I stood a long time simply staring at this bronze statue. As a young fourth grader, I had been in a school fire in which 15 sixth graders were killed. I remember how hard the firefighters fought to save lives.
Firefighters see their profession as a duty, a calling. For many, they've had no other ambition. They live in our communities. Some are paid. Some are not. Their job is to serve, their community, and any other that may need them. On their way to a call, they think about saving lives, saving property, protecting their community, any way they can. They are united in a brotherhood. Theirs is a dangerous profession. One hundred fifteen answered their last call in 2005. You will recall 344 died as the result of the enemy attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.
The Memorial Wall highlights those who have died in our state in the line-of-duty. In scanning through the names on this wall, I was shocked by the very high number of firefighters lost in the Milwaukee area.
The Maltese Cross is a symbol used by firefighters. Technically, what the firefighters use is not an exact replica of the Maltese Cross. Instead, the Maltese Cross has been adapted to reflect firefighting traditions.
The Cross was born on the battlefields of the 11th and 12th century Crusades. At that time, the crusaders came up against a new weapon, glass bombs containing a highly flammable liquid. Their enemies first would throw the glass bombs, and then throw out lit torches that set their victims ablaze. Many crusaders risked their lives to put the fires out to save their burning comrades.
Today the Maltese Cross shown above represents all the principles firefighters hold dear. It is a badge of honor and a symbol of protection. It means a firefighter will sacrifice his life for others, working in courage, "a ladder's rung away from death."
In the center, the firefighter's traditional helmet, the ladder, the ax, and horizontally across the middle, the pike, used for ventilating rooms by smashing out windows, pull ceilings down, or move burning or other objects to facilitate the fight against the fire. Vertically in the middle is the firefighter's bugle, a symbol of trumpets and megaphones historically used to coordinate firefighting efforts. You will recall we earlier pointed out the bench which had this inscription: "The trumpet sounded ... A call to duty."
To the left is the bell. Sometimes on symbols like this you will see a fire hydrant here instead of the bell. Since this is a memorial to the fallen, the Final Bell was employed. Off to the right is "3-3-3." Traditionally, when a fire alarm came to an end, and the firefighters returned to the house, the bell would ring three times to signal the end. The "3-3-3" here reflects that a firefighter has finished his-her tasks, "duties well done, and the bell rings three times in memory of, and in tribute to, his-her life and service" (extracted from the "Chaplains Manual, Department of Funerals, Federation of Fire Chaplains.")
As an aside, some fire houses use "5-5-5," or ring the bell five times.
The walkway around the park is dotted with this kind of stone bench, all styled the same. The inscription reads, "The trumpet sounded ... A call to duty." We'll talk to that trumpet a little more in a moment. Each of the benches was donated by someone, or in someone's honor. Their names are inscribed on a brass plate. This bench was placed in honor of Dolores "Dotty" Nash (1930-1997) and Ronald "Gray" Nash (1928-2007), and reads, "There is nothing so uncommon in this world as common sense."
This caught my attention. Some years ago, I adopted something similar as my company's motto: "Common sense analysis, uncommon foresight."
As you approach the Bell Tower, you get a sense for the marvelous setting for this park, with the Wisconsin River in the background flowing left to right (roughly north to south) from Wisconsin Rapids to Port Edwards.
This is a most moving and scenic monument in the park, "The Final Alarm Bell Tower," dedicated to the memory of Assistant Chief Michael J. Kilpatrick, North Lake Volunteer Fire Department, North Lake, Wisconsin, who died in the line-of-duty on October 7, 2004, and to all those Wisconsin firefighter who have made the ultimate sacrifice while in service to their communities.
There is an informative description of the Bell Ceremony beneath the bell. The bell used to signal the beginning of a firefighter's tour of duty, and signaled alarms. The bell would also signal that the alarm was over, the fire put out. Should a firefighter die in the line-of-duty, "it was the mournful tone of the bell that solemnly announced a comrade's passing." We'll touch on this more in a moment.
Wisconsin is a dog-lover's paradise, so we have to talk about the replica of the Dalmatian standing by at the Bell Tower. Firefighters have long been depicted and associated with Dalmatian dogs. They originated in southern Europe to help herd livestock. In the days of horse-drawn fire vehicles, when the horses were released from the vehicles, the dalmatians would escort them to safe ground and protect them. What struck me most about this scene, though, is that I know when I have fallen and gotten injured outside, my puppy has always come to me, right away, and stood just like that by my side, understanding I was hurting and needing help. That's what this Dalmatian replica is doing, standing by his firefighters at the Bell Tower. If you think about this long enough, a tear will come to your eye.
Looking to the north, this gazebo is beautiful, no other way to describe it. The setting is beautiful, the design, the solemnity, all beautiful.
Looking to the south, again the river in the background, Wisconsin's natural scenery in the foreground. This was an early spring day, and all was gorgeous. This is a must see in the summer.
The park's custodians have said this:
"The vision of the Wisconsin State Firefighters Memorial (Inc.) was to create a park with a natural and scenic setting to house a memorial to our firefighting heroes from across this great State of Wisconsin. The serenity of the setting allows park visitors to be alone with their thoughts and emotions and at the same time realize that their loves one will never be forgotten."
Editor’s note: Since I last visited, a new building has been constructed, a replica of a firehouse. I’ll have to get a photo my next visit. Here is one presented by wikipedia.