The mission of the Rockingham County Department of Fire and Rescue Honor Guard is to pay tribute and honor to our lost firefighters and EMS personnel with pride and professionalism. To provide comfort, dignity, and respect to the families of those lost. To properly display and show respect towards the flag of our nation while representing the proud profession we serve.
The birth of the Rockingham County Fire Rescue Honor Guard began in the summer of 2002. County Administrator William O’Brian issued an executive directive to County Fire Chief Robbie Symons to establish an “Color Guard”. The purpose of the special unit was to assist with the remembrance service of the 1st anniversary of the attacks of 9/11 on the United States of America. This service was on the steps of the County Court House on Court Square downtown Harrisonburg. This unit was charged with, presenting, posting and recovering the following, United States Flag, Virginia State Flag, Rockingham County Flag and Uniform Fire Service Flag during this service.
The original members hand selected by Chief Symons were, Captain Russell Barr, Captain Jeff Werner, Captain Ike Diehl, Captain John Huddle, Lieutenant Keith Higgs, Lieutenant Steve Powell, Firefighter Adam Dove and Firefighter Lori (Grant) Dearing. This group of personnel were chosen based on their Commitment and Dedication to the Department.
This group began its education in this area of training though a combination of past military service and reaching out to other formalized teams. This continued until we learned of the “Nationally Recognized” training academy taught by the Goshen Police Department, in Goshen Indiana. This week long course began with the very basic movements and finalized with all students working together to perform a “Full Firefighter Mock Memorial Service”, from family night events to burial.
This team was very fortunate to be able to send numerous members to this outstanding educational opportunity. This knowledge was vital in the development of the skills and knowledge, that the team possess today. Beginning in 2015 the Department started sending new team members to the Honor Guard Academy sponsored by the National Honor Guard Association at Virginia Beach.
Prior to the formation of this special team, the Department was challenged with the managing the loss of one of its own. On June 8, 1993 Firefighter Clement Fertitta assigned to the Elkton Fire Station, passed due to cardiac arrest while performing physical fitness training after shift. Though Clement was off shift at the time of his death, he was the first career member of the Department to pass since the formation of Rockingham County Fire Rescue, in 1979. This sudden loss challenged the Department to perform a “Firefighter Funeral” with very little knowledge in this field. This was a very emotional loss for the Department. We as a Department were able to perform a service that was very fitting and admired by Clement’s family and friends. This loss began the initial thoughts of a possible formal and trained team to handle these events.
After the 2002 anniversary of 9/11 the team continued to function and serve as an active “Color Guard” unit. This unit operated under the supervision shared by Captain Russell Barr and Captain Jeff Werner. Lieutenant Steve Powell was elevated to a supervisor after the retirement of Captain Russell Barr in 2011. Captain Barr continues to service as an active member of the team.
The team continued to be active with numerous events including parades and special events.
By the year of 2005 the team began to be requested to assist with providing Honors for Volunteer Firefighter and Rescue Squad members, at non Line of Duty funerals.
The team transitioned from a “Color Guard to an “Honor Guard” in the year of 2004. This transaction formally established the Department’s commitment to Honoring those who served in Rockingham County. Shortly after this, the Department began to offer the services of the Honor Guard to other localities to assist with their funerals.
In 2005 the Department was challenged with the passing of Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Bauserman. Jerry joined the Department in XXXX as a Firefighter and was promoted to the rank of Deputy Fire Chief in XXXX. On August 20, 2005 Jerry was stricken at his home with a medical emergency, and succumbed from this event. The Honor Guard again was put in action and in charge of providing “Fire Department Funeral Rites”. During the years since Clement’s passing, the department committed to formal Honor Guard training. This allowed for an effective management of this event, meeting all of the family’s expectations.
The Honor Guard in early 2000 took their commitment to the next level to honor the Fallen. Team members began to attend the Virginia Fallen Firefighters Service in Richmond. The has continued to attend and assist the overhead team managing this event. The team has also committed itself to Honor the Fallen on a National level, by attending the National Firefighters Memorial Service in Emmittsburg, MD. This is the home of the National Fire Academy and the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. Personnel have served in many different functions in assisting with this event. The pinnacle this event is to assist the family of a Fallen Firefighter, as a family escort during the Memorial Weekend. The function of the Family Escort is to guide and support the Family of a Fallen Brother Firefighter through the various events during this Weekend. This event serves as a testament to the term “Brotherhood”. Since 2011 at least 1 team member has served as a family escort. This is a very elite group of personnel that are selected on their dedication, commitment and skills.
The Department was placed in action when McGaheysville Volunteer Firefighter Roy Smith, III lost his life in the Line of Duty on November 7, 2008. This was the first Line of Duty Death in Rockingham County, for the Honor Guard. All members of the team went into action and performed flawlessly, meeting the expectations of the family with resource throughout Virginia. This included Pipes & Drums from the Northern Virginia Emerald Society and Honor Guards as far away as Hanover County near Richmond.
The Department suffered through another loss on October 26, 2009 when Firefighter/Medic Chip Taylor and his wife and daughter were murdered at his home. Chip was assigned to the Broadway Station and functioned as a Firefighter/ALS. Chip was known for his great personality and joking manor. The team came together again to “Honor one of its Own”. The team again performed flawlessly providing a very fitting “Firefighter Memorial Service”. This service though very emotional met the expectations of the family.
Over the past number of year’s team members have travelled when possible, to attend any Firefighter funeral in the state of Virginia. We have had a member travel to North Carolina to Honor a Brother Firefighter.
The Department continues to commit itself to supporting the Honor Guard and its efforts. We continue to add and train new member as well as quarterly proficiency skills sessions.
Past members serving were, Lieutenant Keith Higgs, Firefighter Lori (Grant) Dearing, Firefighter Casey Mork, Firefighter Brook Johnson, Firefighter Chip Taylor, Captain John Huddle, Master Firefighter David Lough.
Current members, Captain Russell Barr, Captain Jeff Werner, Captain Ike Diehl, Lieutenant Karen Will, Firefighter Joel Will, Division Chief Steve Powell, Captain Noah Keller, Lieutenant Dennis Albertson, Lieutenant David Huddle, Lieutenant Todd Spitzer, Firefighter Dustin Whetzel, Firefighter Brook Johnson
The team has built an outstanding relationship will the local funeral homes. They understand the issues involving a “Firefighter” funeral and work very passionately with the team to meet all expectations.
Committed to honoring the memories of all Fallen Firefighters. Here’s to us and those like us!
Members are added as needed or when openings occur within the unit; no one is drafted to the honor guard, it is strictly a voluntary commitment. Personnel are selected to the unit based on experience, attitude, and recommendations from members of the unit. All members of the honor guard are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects a positive image of the unit.