SUMMIT, NJ — The Summit Fire Department hosted a brief ceremony at its headquarters on Sunday, Oct. 4, in participation with Bells Across America, a national moment of remembrance to honor firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2019. Bells rang from coast to coast at the start of the memorial observance.
“The first weekend of October every year, our nation honors firefighters that were lost in the line of duty the year before,” Summit Fire Department Battalion Chief Paul Imbimbo said on Sunday, Oct. 4. “One of the things we do is we have a memorial down at the National Fire Academy, which we’re not allowed to do this year because of the COVID concerns.
“So, 83 members are being memorialized on the wall today, and what we’re doing in place of it is, we’re having memorial services across the country called Bells Across America. At 10 a.m., local hospitals, churches, whatever has bells were asked to ring bells in memory of the firefighters. We had a ceremony today where we rang our bell, and we had a little service for those lost in the line of duty.”
Beginning the service were three loud bell chimes, an important sound for all firefighters.
“The sound of the bell holds significance for firefighters. Historically, the tolling of a bell summons members to a station, signals the beginning of a shift, notifies departments of a call for help, and indicates a call was completed and the unit has returned to station,” Deputy Chief Donald Nelson said during the service on Oct. 4. “Fire departments also sounded a series of bells when a firefighter died in the line of duty, alerting all members that a fellow firefighter had made the ultimate sacrifice.
“This time-honored tradition continues today, during funerals and memorial services for firefighters. As you just heard a few moments ago, bells rang across Summit and from coast to coast at 10 a.m., as a grateful nation pauses to honor those 83 firefighters that we lost in the line of duty in 2019, and also as a remembrance of all firefighters killed in the line of duty. Today’s ceremony is part of Bells Across America, which would signal a start of the national Fall of Firefighters memorial service held at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md.”
Summit joined communities across the nation in paying tribute to fallen firefighters.
“The national Fallen Firefighters memorial service is held to honor those who have been killed in the line of duty. Along with family members of the fallen fighters, firefighters from around the nation are invited to participate in the service,” Nelson said during the service. “I am proud to say that the Summit Fire Department has been a participant in this memorial weekend for 15 years. Our members usually travel down to Emmitsburg and they assist with the service, by doing things from setting up the service and also chaperoning family members of those who’ve lost firefighters.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, the ceremony has been canceled. However, the Bells Across America service will continue the tradition of honoring those who have lost their lives in the line of duty. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, which organizes the memorial weekend, was established by an act of Congress and is funded purely by donations.”
The donations to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation continue to support the firefighter community.
“In addition to supporting the Fallen Firefighters memorial weekend and memorial service, the donations also provide scholastic scholarships to the survivors of those killed in the line of duty, training to fire departments to help prevent future line-of-duty incidents, create a national park to honor those killed in the line of duty located at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md., and provide emotional support to families of those killed in the line of duty via the Survivors Network and through grief counseling, along with financial support for weekend support camps,” Nelson said.
After the speech, the bell was struck once to honor all those lost in the line of duty; this was followed by a moment of silence. Nelson read the names of the two members of the Summit Fire Department — Imal Schultz, who died in 1925, and John Sculley, who died in 1971 — who lost their lives in the line of duty. The bell was struck once after each name, followed by another moment of silence.
“The ceremony is always moving,” Imbimbo said. “We have a group of individuals that go down for the memorial weekend every year and we help with the families; we help set up and clean up, and we weren’t able to go this year. It feels good to actually be able to do something even though we’re not there with them.”
“It’s good to respect everything they’ve done,” Summit Firefighter Jess Faulks said after the ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 4. “The sacrifice they gave by their lives. This is a sacred tradition and it’s good that we do it.”
“I think today’s brief ceremony was a great idea,” said Summit Firefighter Carlos Villalobos, who rang the bell during the ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 4. “For the sacrifice of their lives, we have to pay homage to them.”
Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman