RALEIGH — Hundreds of firefighters gathered on a downtown square Saturday to dedicate a statue that captures the everyday risk of their jobs in bronze.
It's about time, said Cary firefighter Kevin Williams, who admired the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Memorial with his wife and youngest daughter.
"You've got monuments for every world war. Police have a monument," Williams said. "It's time for the fire service to have one."
Firefighters celebrated with funnel cakes, photos and ceremony. The day began with a parade and ended with a candlelight vigil.
Speakers talked of those who made "the ultimate sacrifice," avoiding the word "death." No matter how you say it, though, firefighters and their families are acutely aware of the risks that come with the job.
"I always make sure to tell him goodbye, I love you and be safe," Christi Boggs said of her husband, Capt. William Boggs of the Eastern Wake Fire Department. "You don't take any time for granted."
A group of firefighters who call themselves the N.C. Fallen Firefighters Foundation came up with the idea for a statue seven years ago.
The $500,000 bronze-and-brick statue in the middle of Raleigh's Nash Square depicts a firefighter trapped under a beam as three colleagues work around him. One gives comfort and calls for help, another tries to lift the beam and a third battles the approaching blaze.
The foundation unveiled the statue Saturday afternoon, then read out the names of 164 North Carolina firefighters who have died in the line of duty since 1902.
Survivors of the dead were given a red rose and a carefully folded American flag and told that their loved ones were heroes.
Carolyn Abernathy of Fuquay-Varina collected hers in honor of her first husband, Vernon Thompson, a member of the Cary Volunteer Fire Department. Thompson died in a wreck while riding to a fire June 16, 1960.
Abernathy remembers saying goodbye to him that morning and making plans to work in the garden with him that night.
"I said, 'I'll see you there,' " said Abernathy, who is now 73. "I didn't know what that meant. Now I know."
Staff writer Toby Coleman can be reached at 829-8937 or firstname.lastname@example.org.