First Responder Memorial in the works in Washington Cemetery

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After the Washington Fire Department lost one of its own fighting a home fire five years ago, fire Capt. Joe Manning wanted to create a First Responders Memorial for him and other such local heroes in a designated section of Washington Cemetery in North Franklin.

Firefighter Jeremy LaBella was trapped and suffocated in the Feb. 4, 2007, fire when a piece of the building fell on him and another firefighter, who managed to escape.

Then Paul Shiring Jr., a firefighter and North Strabane paramedic, had a similar idea. He told his father, Paul Shiring Sr., who was superintendent of Washington Cemetery. The elder Mr. Shiring liked his son's memorial plan so much that he took it to the cemetery board, which approved it.

"In the last 10 years, we lost one firefighter and four police officers in the region, and many more were injured," said Mr. Manning, a Washington councilman. "And while I'm not aware of paramedics and [emergency medical technicians] who died while on duty, many have been injured."

Earlier this month, ground was broken at Washington Cemetery for the $500,000 memorial project.Yet to come is raising funds for the memorial on a two-acre site near a secondary cemetery entrance, across the road from the mausoleum and pond.

The site will be open to any police officers, firefighters and EMTs and their spouses, even those who reside outside Washington County.

Funding will come from federal, state and local grants, private donations and fundraisers

"The total cost will include site preparation, the artist fee, casting of three statues, the memorial itself, landscaping, walkways, infrastructure and three circular garden areas," Mr. Manning said. "If we're able to raise the necessary funds, we hope to have the project completed in 18 months to two years."

Artist Jim Prokell of Brentwood was chosen to design the memorial and cast the sculpture of three figures, one for each first responder group.

Mr. Manning said he is familiar with Mr. Pokell's work because his wife, Lynn Manning, worked for Consol Energy, and Mr. Prokell did graphic design work for the company over 25 years.

"Planners said they wanted figurative statues done in a classical style as well as a place where visitors could sit and meditate on the memories of their loved ones," Mr. Prokell said.

The artist came up with the concept of three statues -- a police officer, a firefighter and an EMT -- depicted helping a child in danger, all on a pedestal, featuring three white granite crescents, flanked by columns. Each crescent will bear a crest of one branch of first responders, and benches will be placed in front of the columns.

A separate walkway will lead from each bench to three circular garden areas filled with red, white and blue flowers. Pavers, which the public may purchase, will mark the circumference of each garden.

"A lot of the memorial's shapes are rounded to reflect the rounded hills that surround and protect the cemetery, much like the way first responders protect us," Mr. Prokell explained. Washington Cemetery was established in 1853 and remains the largest nonprofit, all-faiths cemetery in Washington County. The cemetery has 250 acres in North Franklin. Among its noteworthy burials are murdered labor leader Joseph "Jock" Yablonski and his family; Col. David Acheson, killed at age 22 at the battle of Gettysburg; and Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Hugh Boone, another Civil War veteran.

"We're very proud to be part of this special project by dedicating this section in honor of first responders," the senior Mr. Shiring said. "As the father of a career firefighter/paramedic, I am acutely aware of the dangers these courageous people encounter. We believe this memorial is a fitting tribute to the men and women who place their lives on the line daily to save others and to ensure the safety of our community."

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Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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