GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Greensboro firefighters are taking a significant step toward restoring a tradition that honors colleagues who have died.
The inspiration centers around the Firemen’s monument in Green Hill Cemetery.
“We’ve got so much that we take for granted just like this statue here. A lot of the firemen were not even familiar with it or really knew what the history of it was,” Retired Battalion Chief Carl Eller said.
Recent research revealed much of the monument’s connection to the fire department’s history.
The monument is one of the talking points on Ann Stringfield’s historical tours.
She’s on the Friends of Green Hill Cemetery leadership team.
“When we passed by the Firemen’s monument we tended to have about three things to say, what we thought it was, when it was erected that sort of thing,” Stringfield said.
After being approached by retired firefighters to learn more about the monument’s history, Stringfield reached out to specialists at the Greensboro Public Library for help.
Archived newspaper articles documented a tradition that faded over time.
“Back in the early 1800s, one of the traditions of the Greensboro firefighters, which they called them firemen then, was to recognize the firefighters that passed away the year before, so a group of people in town decided to erect a statue or monument to remember our fallen brothers and sisters,” Retired Battalion Chief Larry Cockman said. “The tradition was every year they would come down, the mayor, the fire chief and the chaplain would speak, actually would get on top of the trucks and speak, and they would recognize all the firefighters that had passed away whether in the line of duty or natural causes the previous year,” he said.
That continued until 1970 and for some reason stopped.
Cockman is working to restore that tradition; however, not without cleaning the monument and landscaping the area where 11 firemen are buried.
Both active duty and retired Greensboro firefighters participated in the initial cleanup day.
“It’s just gratification and a reward to me to be able to do something like this,” retired firefighter Danny Nelson said.
“I don’t want to say it got forgotten about, but it’s been passed over for a few years and it’s nice to see people taking pride in it again,” Engine 14 Captain Vinnie Messina said.
“Those services to honor our fallen are exceptionally important to firefighters,” President of the Professional Firefighters of Greensboro and station 7 firefighter Dave Coker said.
Ceremonies could start as early as this summer.
There are also plans to build a bench at the site using the bricks from the North Church Street drill tower that was recently torn down.