An idea whose time has come: honoring first responders

Fighting a fire during a training exercise

For the past 15 to 20 years or so, the idea of erecting a monument to honor the service of the men and women belonging to the St. George Volunteer Firefighters and Ambulance Association has been, as Association member Steve Jarrett says, “floating around” within the Fire Department. Jarrett has been a member of the Association for 27 years, joining a year after the group was formally incorporated (see sidebar for a more detailed history). He is now the chair of a committee working hard to bring into reality what up until recently had just been a matter of wishful thinking.

“At first we were going to do a wall of honor with a big piece of polished granite with brass plaques with names and dates and then we realized that if we’ve been in this business [since the 1940s] it would be hard and we might even be leaving people out if we didn’t have good records, so we kept pondering the idea. I’ve kind of hung with it all the way through. We’ve had a lot of projects going so we’ve had to prioritize, but I didn’t want to see this fall through the cracks. So last year I went to an Association meeting and I said, ‘Do we or don’t we want to continue this and if we do, let’s form a committee, let’s get some ideas.’ And the Association said this is something we want to follow through on.”

The desire to recognize the service of the town’s emergency responders, most of whom are volunteers (only the round-the-clock paramedics are paid), Jarrett says, has to do with wanting to honor Association members’ willingness to shoulder the responsibility—and, frequently, to accept the risks entailed—for safeguarding St. George lives and property. And the time the members put into training alone, represents a significant commitment.

Steve Jarrett

“It used to be you could show up at a fire and help—now you have to be trained,” Jarrett points out. “The training can be intense but it isn’t overwhelming. You can get certified after a year. It’s all for our own good. Our new ‘burn building’ is going to let us do a lot better, a lot more intense, training. It will allow the young recruits to decide if it’s for them or not. It gives us all a chance to act in these scenarios and be safe and remember we’re a team—one comes out, we all come out. There are no heroes and no free-lancing, as one chief used to put it.”

Jarrett’s committee has settled on the idea of an outdoor monument made of granite with benches on either side. “After putting some ideas together we got with Brooks Monuments in Warren and we came to a design which is shaded granite with white granite for the bench tops. We had other ideas such as bronze items to be added, like a pair of boots and a helmet, but we decided, let’s start basic and through the years if we want to add to it we can do that. We wanted something that wouldn’t be reaching for the stars to finance.”

The committee has selected a site on the Town Office lawn in front of the flag pole, facing the parking lot. The estimated cost of the project is $20,000. “The ground has to be prepped so it can be anchored, and it’s got to be installed. The brass plaque at the top alone is $3,000. We thought that was a very fair and reasonable price. It’s got all kinds of flat space for later adding on things—there could be bronze medallions that families could use to commemorate a loved one, or we could put pavers around that could be inscribed.”

The financing for the monument, Jarrett says, will be entirely by donation and fund-raising efforts such as bottle drives. “This will not be in the town’s budget. This is something that comes from the heart.” Jarrett and the committee say they hope they meet their fundraising goal in a reasonable time because the longer the project is delayed the more expensive it will likely be. But they also recognize that the Association has other needs that require funding, so they plan to be careful not to compete with fundraisers for those.

But Jarrett says he and the monument committee are determined to bring this project to fruition. “This monument does mean a lot to us—the EMS and the Fire Department. There’s a lot of pride in our department. There are members of our department who came in when they were 15, 16 years old. I came in in my late 20s. My father used to be on it, my uncle used to be on it. If my three sons hadn’t run off and joined the navy they’d be on it. It is a thing amongst fire departments to put a monument out, a place to celebrate, honor, reflect. It’s a meeting ground with sentimental meaning to it—for all those who have served, for all those who want to come and say something or think something on our behalf, too. It was an idea, and we’re trying to make it a reality.”—JW
(Those wishing to make a contribution to the Fire and Rescue Monument can make their donation to St. George Firefighters and Ambulance Association and send it to the Town Office at PO Box 131, Tenants Harbor, ME 04860. Please specify that the donation is for the Fire and Rescue Monument.)

PHOTOS: Top, Courtesy of SGVFFAA, below, Julie Wortman


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