SOUTH PORTLAND – Firefighters from Portland and South Portland gathered at Forest City Cemetery on Sunday morning for an annual service to honor those who died in the line of duty.

About 30 firefighters marched to the Portland Veteran Firemen’s Association monument, where the names of 22 firefighters were read and honored for their dedication and service.

Robert Wassick, deputy chief of the Portland Fire Department, read a statement from Portland Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne, who could not attend the service. He told the crowd of more than 60 people that their presence at the service is a tribute to their character. He talked about the void he feels when a comrade dies, and he said to embrace the void because it’s a reminder of how precious life it is.

“The loss of a loved one is never easy,” Wassick said. “Next time you feel the void join me and say thank you and go forward and embrace the life that so many have sacrificed for us to enjoy.”

Since 1903, 20 Portland firefighters and two South Portland firefighters have died in the line of duty. This service, which has been held annually since 1892, has become an important tradition to the surviving family and friends of those firefighters and the firefighting community.

Honored at the service was Robert Wallingford Jr., 47, a captain in the South Portland Fire Department, who had a heart attack on Aug. 27, 1996, while fighting a four-alarm fire at Portland Welding Supply Co.

“We came here to remember and honor those who died and served for us,” said his daughter-in-law, Maureen Wallingford.

Also honored was Debra Cole, 40, a firefighter and paramedic in South Portland, who died June 11 after suffering a stroke at the fire station on Western Avenue. On Sunday, Cole was also honored at the 29th annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service in Emmitsburg, Md.

South Portland Fire Chief Kevin Guimond talked about importance of family tradition and the need to encourage young kids to join the fire service industry.

“We need to move forward and embrace moving forward, but never forget to look back,” Guimond said. “I hope, as I look around and see some of the common faces, that you keep coming back. It’s so important to honor these people who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

Phyllis White attends the service every year to honor her son Joseph C. Cavallaro Jr., a firefighter in Portland who died on March 24, 1980, while fighting a fire at a bar on Oak Street. More than 10 members of her family attended the service Sunday.

“I’ll never forget that night,” White said. “It’s is wonderful that the fire department recognizes those that have died on duty. It’s a nice tribute.”

Larry Gray, who worked for the Portland Fire Department for nine years, said he came honor Cavallaro, Wallingford and others.

“They put their lives on the line to try and save other people,” said Gray, of Windham. “They run into the buildings that everyone is running out of. More than once, I’ve seen them go into places no person in their right mind would go into because they thought someone was in there. As you can see by the list here, some didn’t make it.”

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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