One by one, 43 times the bell chimed and echoed across Patriot Plaza in Towson Sunday, as the Baltimore County Fire Service hosted its annual Ceremony of Remembrance at the county's fire service monument along Pennsylvania Avenue.
James Doran of the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Company had the duty of ringing the bell as each name of a fallen fire service member was recited, but he deferred on about a dozen occasions — when a family member of the fallen personnel rose silently from the crowd, walked to the front and chose to the pull the small cord themselves to honor their loved one with the toll of the bell.
One of them was Rebecca Rice, 21, who rang the bell to honor her father, Baltimore County Station No. 1 (Towson) firefighter Thomas Rice, who died in 2009 from pancreatic cancer associated with his 23 years as a county firefighter and 28 years with the Providence Volunteer Fire Company.
But she was also there to continue a tradition she shared with her dad, known as "TR" to his comrades, and who is remembered for his spirit — and for cooking meals for the crew at the station.
"I always came (to the remembrance service) with my dad," Rice said. Now, "it's something my brother and I do every year."
Dressed in her full uniform — she's a paramedic with Cecil County — Rice smiled in noting that she and her brother represent the family's fourth generation in the fire service. Her brother, Thomas "Tommy" Rice, is stationed at Providence, and was also in attendance Sunday in his dress uniform.
"The fire department has always been a second family," she said.
It was the same for Brooklandville paramedic Ben Bosley, who emerged from the line of uniformed officers to also ring the bell to honor his uncle, Ray Bosley, another Towson station firefighter who died in 2001 of leukemia, also related to his years of service.
"I come every year," Bosley said. "It's a chance to hear Uncle Ray's name being called — and know he's not forgotten."
One of seven members of his family in the fire service — following a tradition that he said dated back to his uncle, his father and his grandfather, Bosley said "Uncle Ray" left behind a wife and four sons — two that are now working to get in the service themselves.
"Family runs through the fire department deeply," Bosley said.
Indeed, that sense of family was the prevailing theme for the event.
"We come together as a family to honor our members — your family member, and ours," said retired Baltimore County Fire Department Capt. Richard Brooks, serving as master of ceremonies.
The Rev. James Westervelt, chaplain for the Baltimore County Retired Fire Officers and Firefighters Association who served 30 years in the fire service before becoming a minister, said the pain of those who have lost loved ones is shared by their brothers and sisters in the service.
"They were members of our family also," he said. "On days like today, and on the anniversaries of their deaths, we know all loved ones are hurting — but we remember that God always sides with those who are weak and hurting."
Sunday's event honored fallen fire service personnel from the most recent — Lutherville Volunteer Fire Company firefighter Mark Falkenhan, who died in 2011 in an apartment blaze — to the most distant — Monroe Seitz, a Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Company who died in a gas tank explosion in 1928.
The ceremony was attended by fire officials and also by Fifth District County Councilman David Marks, and included the singing of the National Anthem and "Fireman's Prayer" by Fire Apparatus Driver Operator Tim Mooney, who also works from Station 1 in Towson.
"It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and a beautiful ceremony," said Marks after the service. "In Baltimore County, we have a dual system of professional firefighter stations and volunteer units. This system has served us well, and we should never forget the men and women who sacrifice to keep our communities safe."
After the event, the extended family of firefighters and paramedics and relatives gathered in the shade for refreshments, socializing and to swap stories about their absent friends.
Bosley said that aspect of the event was one he cherished the most — he said with a laugh that you can't get two firefighters together without tall tales and remembrances.