Two Iowans are among those who’ll be honored at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial weekend in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Ronald Siarnicki (Sar-nuh-key), the executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, says the names of the firefighters who died in the last year will be added to the memorial in a ceremony Sunday. He says a total of 110 firefighters will be honored. Forty-nine-year-old James Richards, assistant chief of the Oran Volunteer Fire Department, and 60-year-old Dixie Steckelberg, a volunteer firefighter/E-M-T from the Lovilia Fire Department, will be honored. Richards died October 20, 2003 when he suffered a heart attack while fighting a field and structure fire on a neighbor’s farm. A 29-year veteran, he served three years as chief and 18 years as assistant chief. Steckelberg died December 18, 2003, when she suffered a heart attack at the scene of a motor vehicle accident. A 20-year veteran with the department, she was also a dispatcher for Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. Siarnicki says Richards and Steckelberg are part of an unfortunate trend. He says on average about 100 firefighters die every year, and he says that number has been creeping up and is a concern. He says about every 80 hours, somewhere in the United States, a firefighter dies in the line of duty. Siarnicki says there are a couple of reasons for more firefighter deaths. He says the leading cause of firefighter deaths in the U-S is heart attacks and the second is vehicle accidents. He says another piece is the increase in wildland firefighters who’ve died. He says part of the problem is putting homes in the middle of forests and expecting wildland firefighters to save the homes when the forests catch fire. He says they have to address that issue. Siarnicki says the public can help by yielding the right-of-way to fire emergency vehicles. He says they’re also working on improving the health of firefighters to help prevent the heart attacks that hit them.
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