The opening session of the IAFF 52nd Convention paid tribute to the thousands of members who have embraced the IAFF journey, “riding the rigs, entering burning buildings, attacking wildfires or getting a pulse back on a child.”
On a vast stage at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, emblazoned with brilliant gold and fire-red screens featuring the IAFF logo and Convention theme of “Standing Strong,” IAFF Chief of Staff Peter L. Gorman, serving as master of ceremonies, expressed his appreciation for Local 48 and for its work in support of the Convention, and for its opening reception the previous night.
Chaplain Thomas Mulcrone called for a moment of silence in remembrance of those who have fallen in the line of duty and those in the military who have fallen on the battlefield. His invocation also addressed the “honor of working for the fire service.”
With bagpipes playing “God Bless America,” colors were presented by the Cincinnati Fire Department Color Guard and Cincinnati Area Pipe and Drum Band, followed by the singing of the national anthems of our two countries, O’ Canada and the Star Spangled Banner by Brother John Winfrey, a 23-year-veteran of Cincinnati Local 48.
A video history was broadcast of Cincinnati, the first American city to employ a paid fire department, noting that it served a crucial role as an underground railway for freeing slaves. It currently houses a museum of fire fighting.
The University of Cincinnati’s Philharmonia Orchestra, under the direction of Nathaniel Bevesluis, then performed “Mars” from “The Planets” by Gustav Holst, a dramatic and appropriately somber composition for the memorial tribute that would soon follow. Bevesluis spoke of persons very close to him who have been affected by the work fire fighters do, and offered that he and the orchestra members were privileged to perform for the IAFF members. The orchestra then concluded with “America the Beautiful,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and John Phillps Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” – to the rousing applause of the delegates.
The video that followed was as solemn as the orchestra’s music had been rousing – a tribute to our brothers and sisters who have fallen in the line of duty. Countless scenes of funerals, uniformed fire fighters marching in honor of those who had passed, scenes of jets flying overhead, and a bell being rung once to symbolize the passing of the many who have fallen.
The overflow crowd in the hall, brimming with emotion, watched as photos of those who have died in the line of duty during the past two years – far too many by any measure – were then shown as the song “Save A Place for Me” was played in memory of their sacrifice, it’s haunting lyrics “Save a place for me, save a place for me, for I will be there soon” resounding through the silence of the hall.
Other vocal tributes followed amidst the chilling silence in the hall reflecting the awe that delegates felt as screen after screen – each displaying the images four abreast of our fallen sisters and brothers – appeared one after the other for nearly 10 minutes. The presentation concluded with a recording of “You Raise Me Up.”
The Pipe and Drum Band performed “Amazing Grace,” accompanied by the bell symbolizing those fallen being rung 15 times more and a trumpeter finally performing “Last Post” and “TAPS,” the haunting sound of a second trumpeter in the back of the haul echoing the last rite.
“Won’t Let My Guard Down”
Following the memorial, a video was broadcast characterizing the life-saving, life-risking work of fire fighters, titled “Won’t Let My Guard Down.”
Noting that 22 legislatures have fallen into the hands of anti-union extremists, the video revealed the extent of the assault on members’ rights and benefits, and how the union will never back down in defending members against these assaults.
It noted the success in extending Canadian CBRNE provisions and in securing billions in grant funding through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER), as well as reinforcing the Convention theme – standing strong, refusing to back down and “never, never letting our guard down.”
The video was followed with a live performance on the Convention stage by Darby Ledbetter singing his recording of “Won’t Let My Guard Down.”
Rousing State of the Union Address
General President Harold Schaitberger’s state-of-the-union address brought the 2,500 delegates to their feet, urging them to rise and stand strong, “Because standing strong together, there are no forces of wealth, privilege or political position that will daunt our resolve.”
Schaitberger condemned the recklessness of 21st century financial tycoons “whose great fantasy is a world without unions,” and made clear that their boundless greed, which has savaged municipal budgets, will not be satisfied until they “simply destroy us.”
These latter-day robber barons, he asserted, have financed the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an anti-union Think Tank committed to crippling our union, pointing out arch conservative Grover Norquist’s expressed desire to “shrink government down to the size where they can drown it in a bathtub.”
“There’s one thing these anti-union groups didn’t bargain for,” he roared, “and that’s the power and the fury of this IAFF!”
And in powerful concluding remarks, President Schaitberger condemned the hypocrisy of two-faced politicians, no matter their party affiliation. “There’s only one simple principle we apply,” he declared: “Are you with us? Or are you against us? Because we don’t tolerate double crosses. We hold everyone accountable.”