SOUTH PORTLAND — The bell tolled 22 times Sunday at Forest City Cemetery, once for each firefighter who died in the line of duty while serving in the Portland and South Portland departments.
The commemoration honored firefighters who died over a span of more than 100 years, from 1903 to 2009, with most of the deaths before 1960.
It was also the 100th anniversary of the first Portland Veteran Firemen’s Association monument dedication.
Retired Portland Lt. Ed Marks, the unofficial fire department historian, said firefighters, their friends and families have been gathering at Forest City Ceremony at the monument every fall for 100 years, and it’s not going to stop now.
“We are not going to let this dedication fall by the wayside,” Marks said.
He clutched a ceremonial silver speaking trumpet, estimated to be about 100 years old. The ones that the departments actually used were brass, Marks said, and often were dented many times over.
“They would use it when they got to the fires, to shout out orders to the men,” said Marks, association president, wearing a bright red uniform that dates to the late 19th century.
Marks also displayed old photos from the 1913 monument dedication, when more than 300 attended, and laminated copies of century-old newspapers for a reception at the South Portland fire station.
The Portland Evening Express and Advertiser, writing about the dedication ceremony on Sept. 15, 1913, described the monument as a “modest shaft of Maine granite.”
Marks said even before the firemen’s association monument was dedicated, firefighters and their families from the late 1800s realized that there was a need to help the families of firefighters who died.
“It was a tough life, and often these guys were destitute, and couldn’t afford a burial,” Marks said. Recognizing the need, the association started holding annual services for fallen firefighters, beginning in 1892.
During Sunday’s service at the cemetery, several spoke about the importance of remembering those who sacrificed, and their families.
Josh Pobrislo, vice president of the South Portland Firefighters Local 1476, said that being a firefighter is more than a job, it’s like joining a family.
The Rev. Robert Regan, Portland fire department chaplain, said people should “rise our hearts from earth to heaven” to recognize the firefighters who died.
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at: