Linas Saurusaitis is the Emergency Medical Services Captain at the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport Fire Rescue Department. He’s also a life member and past chief of the Lineboro Volunteer Fire Department.
And he’s also a volunteer with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. And while it was for that last role that on Oct. 21, Gov. Larry Hogan honored Saurusaitis with a Governor’s Service Award, in many ways his service roles are all of a piece, and reinforce each other. He is a firefighter and first responder, and he helps the families who have lost a loved one in the fire service navigate their grief.
The Times recently caught up with Saurusaitis to learn more about his career, the award and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
Q: How did it feel to be named a Governor’s Service Award Winner, and how did you find out?
A: I received an email from the Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism that they selected a nomination that was submitted (without my knowledge) by a co-worker. I was nominated in the Government Employee/Agency category.
At first I was a bit uncomfortable with the award since my efforts are collaborative with many other fire department partners. They certainly deserve equal credit. The night of the awards ceremony, I shared the stage with other incredible volunteers and service agencies from all across Maryland doing great things in their communities.
Q: You were nominated for your volunteer work with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Can you tell us about the foundation, your work there, and how you first came to be a volunteer?
A: The NFFF began in 1992 and was created by the US Congress to lead a nationwide effort to remember Americas Fallen Firefighters. The mission has grown since then to include the memorial weekend, expansion of the memorial site in Emmitsburg, year-round family programs, scholarships, and injury prevention programs.
I began volunteering back in 2007 after a co-worker encouraged me to become a family escort for the memorial weekend. About six years ago I began my role as co-coordinator of the BWI reception area that welcomed survivor families traveling to the memorial weekend. With tremendous help from surrounding departments, the reception area now hosts over 100 family members and returning survivors traveling to Emmitsburg.
Q: The work you do for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation seems like it could be rather intense at times. Are there moments you recall as being really rewarding in your volunteer work? Things that have been more challenging?
A: The work done at BWI is incredibly rewarding. Our department had made a commitment to greet every family making the journey to the memorial. Since we have access to the secure part of the airport, firefighters from BWI and other departments greet travelers the moment they step off the airplane. I believe this sets the tone for the entire weekend.
Some of the more difficult challenges occur when I am serving as a family escort during the memorial weekend activities. Over the years I have met dozens of survivor family members in various stages of grief. For some it is still very raw, while others are finding their new normal.
Q: Is it difficult to balance all those different roles, or does your work for the Foundation flow easily from your work in Lineboro and at the airport?
A: Leadership at BWI Airport has been very supportive of the efforts that I put forth for the Foundation. In fact they encourage it. It is an easy transition going home to Lineboro. I still feel a strong obligation to respond on every call when I am available (at least one of my three sons is usually waiting for me to arrive at the station). You may also see me calling Bingo on Friday nights. Some of the best people I have known live and volunteer in Lineboro, and it has been a great place to put down roots and raise a family.
Q: Is there anything concerning the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation that you find not many people know or understand, but which you wish they did?
A: The national memorial site is literally in our backyard. It is only about 30-45 minutes away for most Carroll County residents. It is a beautiful campus and is open to the public. The National Memorial Service held in October is also open to the public. Everyone should make the pilgrimage at least once and reflect on the sacrifices made by our nation’s first responders. Please visit firehero.org to get access to videos and more information regarding the good work done by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.