Remarks by Minister Goodale to the Canadian Firefighters Memorial

Speech

September, 11th, 2016
Ottawa

Merci.  Thank you, Chairman Mike.

Firefighters.  Families and friends of the fallen.  Distinguished guests.  Ladies and gentlemen.

Good morning.  Bonjour tout le monde.  Salutations de la part du gouvernement du Canada. 

C’est pour moi un grand honneur et un privilege que de participer a cette ceremonie cette annee.  Merci pour votre invitation.

This occasion is extra-special for me because I’m attending for the first time as Canada’s Minister of Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness. 

In this portfolio, you have to deal with a lot of tough things.  But one of the perks is having the opportunity to meet personally with some of the courageous women and men who risk their lives every day for the safety and security of others.  And also to meet their loved ones.

I want to acknowledge Bob Kirkpatrick and the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation for their passionate and endless work to preserve and celebrate the memories of all those, both career and volunteer, who have served in this calling, and who have been “called” to their rest.

All Canadians need this solemn occasion to pause, to remember and to reflect on what it TAKES – and on what has been GIVEN by those we commemorate today – to keep us safe in our homes and communities, every day in every corner of this land.

Merci a la Fondation de faire de cet evenement annuel une priorite, et de nous donner l’occasion de nous arreter un moment pour reflechir a les contributions des pompiers.

This day in 2016 is a particularly painful, powerful and poignant anniversary – because it’s 15 years this morning since the horrific attacks of 9-11 in 2001:

  • 3,000 innocent lives snuffed out, including 24 Canadians;
  • 343 members of the New York City Fire Department killed in the line of duty.

That day is etched in blood and terror, but from that brutality arose a legacy of heroes – from the ladies auxiliary in Gander making sandwiches and beds for stranded travelers, to the valiant First Responders running INTO harm’s way in lower Manhatten – they showed the very best of the human spirit, the last drop of devotion, and the core of steel that upholds the open, inclusive, generous, democratic way in which we want to live our lives.

Firefighters were ALWAYS heroes.  But since 9-11, their image everywhere has become synonymous with service, duty, honour, valour, sacrifice and defiance in the face of those who would debase our values and maim our way of life.

This commemoration this year is special also because it follows the worst fire disaster in Canadian history – the Canadian blaze that was witnessed around the world – and that’s that “beast” of a wildfire that attacked Fort McMurray.

For nearly a month.  More than 80,000 people displaced.  More than half a million hectares burned.  More than 10% of a city destroyed.  The economy shutdown.  Thousands of lives still disrupted.

In coordinating the federal response, I got to see something truly remarkable – the raw courage of the people of Fort Mac, the leadership of local and provincial officials, the proficient dexterity of the Red Cross, the cohesion and generosity of Canadians everywhere who said both in spirit and in cold hard cash:  “Hey Fort Mac, we’ve got your back!” … but most amazing was the skill and tenacity of firefighters and other First Responders.

Firefighters of all kinds – urban and rural, career and volunteer, structural and wild-lands, on the ground and in the air, domestic and foreign – they battled the vicious common enemy shoulder-to-shoulder.

Thousands of people were depending on them.  They had to make tough decisions in the most stressful conditions.  They worked without sleep for days, through the smoke and the heat, the mud and the ash, and the threat at any moment that “the Beast” could engulf them.

It’s a massive tribute to firefighters that 90% of the community was saved and not a single fatality resulted directly from the fire itself.

Whether it was New York City 15 years ago or northern Alberta barely 15 weeks ago, these spectacular events are seared in our minds.  But there are, in fact, countless stories – everyday – of firefighter determination, skill, courage, service and devotion in communities large and small in every corner of our country … the daily work of keeping Canadians safe.

The firefighters I’ve had the privilege to meet are typically humble and down-to-earth.  Behind the uniforms and the fire-gear are real people who have chosen to serve the public in a particularly “self-less” way.

Winston Churchill once said that we make our LIVING by what we GET in life, but we make a LIFE by what we GIVE.  Firefighters are BIG GIVERS by the indispensable service you provide.  And you provide it, NOT because you HAVE to, but because you WANT to.

Sadly, the inherent dangers of the work you do mean that some of your comrades don’t make it home from their shift.  And that’s why we are gathered here today – to remember that sacrifice, and to share in the grief … and the pride … of their families and friends.

Firefighters are most often the first on the scene of all manner of emergencies – a fire, an explosion, a car crash, a health crises and much more.  You never know how dangerous or gruesome it’s going to be.  The job requires intense training, quick thinking, remarkable bravery and nerves of steel.

You place the safety of others first.  You are willing to look danger in the eye to protect the lives of strangers and the comrades who stand beside you.

For all that, Canadians say thank you.

Your loved ones, your families and friends live with the constant awareness of the risks involved in your chosen career.  And for that too, Canadians say thank you.

This Memorial conveys deep emotion and simple dignity.  It’s a moving tribute to Canada’s fallen firefighters.

And while it stands on Lebreton Flats in Ottawa, it reaches across the country to incorporate the presence of firefighters everywhere.  It does that especially because some of the metal was cast from brass couplings from fire halls and stations across Canada.

The names engraved here bring honour to their families, their departments, their communities and this country:

Stephen

George

Mark

William

Brian

Timothy

Peter

Mike

William (again)

John

Arthur

And Tom.  And all those others with them.

They are heroes. 

Canadians extend their deepest condolences.

And we WILL remember them.

Merci.


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