New honor brought to Summit |

New honor brought to Summit

Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk Lake Dillon Fire Rescue fire fighters Chad harns, left, and David Hampton replace an American flag and raise it to half-staff at the Dillon Valley fire station June 7 in recognition of President Ronald Reagan's death.

SUMMIT COUNTY – Amid the tragedy of the death of Barrie Niebergall, a 24-year veteran of firefighting, on March 17, Summit County’s firefighters realized another sad fact: They were not equipped to properly honor him.While the nation watched as firefighters, police officers and paramedics fallen in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were sent off with official processions, color guards and auspicious ceremonies, Summit County had no official honor guard. Local firefighter T.J. Graf did something about it.Today, as locals join the nation in observing Patriot Day, the official remembrance for those who died in the attacks now referred to simply as “9/11,” Summit County’s new official honor guard will spend the morning in one of its first official acts – lowering area flags to half-mast.

“I was in Boy Scouts as a kid and did some flag ceremonies,” Graf said Thursday. “But when Barrie died, we saw a need to have an honor guard to honor our own firefighters, what they stand for and what the county stands for.”For Niebergall’s memorial services, firefighters enlisted the help of Denver’s South Metro Fire-Rescue. The Front Range department has a standing honor guard, which has now helped train Summit County’s.Graf said the small group of firefighters, a half-dozen, are training to be a part of all of Summit County’s most important ceremonies. In addition to the rites appropriate to official funerals and memorials, the honor guard is training to be a part of flag ceremonies and to present colors during performances of the national anthem. The guard plans to travel each year to Colorado Springs, where the state’s fallen firefighters’ memorial is the site of a ceremony every Sept. 18.

Graf also said the group, which includes members of all Summit County’s four fire departments, will be a part of parades, high school sporting events and any other event that fits the honor guard’s motto: Honor, pride and tradition.Graf said he hopes that by doing the dangerous profession justice, the honor guard, in its double-breasted dress uniforms with chrome-plated axes, “will help bring Summit County’s fire departments together.””This is something we need to do as a formal tribute,” said Mike Roll, spokesman and lieutenant with Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District in Breckenridge.

Roll noted that in addition to the death of Niebergall, the recent deaths of Red, White and Blue firefighter Chris Ethridge and Dillon Police Chief Gary Cline, unfortunately, brought the issue of the lack of an honor guard to the forefront.Roll noted that the honor guard is important not only to revere fallen comrades, but to inspire new ones. Graf’s honor guard’s first activity this summer was to participate in the county fire authority’s graduation ceremony for new firefighters. “This is something not only to be used in times of mourning and sadness, but in times of celebration,” Roll said.In past years, Summit County has seen its firefighting forces shift from a largely volunteer basis to the paid ranks of professional firefighters. Both Roll and Graf said they see the new honor guard as one step in raising the professionalism of the county’s fire departments.

“As with everybody else, from Sept. 11 (2001), firefighters’ patriotism went sky-high – especially for firefighters for what we lost as brothers and sisters,” Roll said. “This is a way to do two things: a tribute for those that fell on that day, and one way of saying, ‘We may be a small town, we may be far from that tragedy, but they’re in our hearts.'”Graf said that once the honor guard is established – they’re training once a month and looking to increase their budget to add more firefighters to the ranks – they plan to get more involved in the community, and share their pride and tradition with other communities, just as South Metro Fire’s honor guard did for them.For today, though, Graf hopes Summit County will join the honor guard: “We invite every individual with a private flag to join us in lowering it to half-mast.”Reid Williams can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or at

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