Hundreds pay tribute to fallen firefighters in ceremony at memorial in St. Paul

The last Sunday in September is devoted to Minnesota’s fallen firefighters who've made the ultimate sacrifice.

Gov. Tim Walz directed flags to be flown at half-staff from sunrise until sunset on Sunday to honor firefighters who have been killed or injured in the line of duty. This order occurs each year in honor of Minnesota Fallen Firefighters Memorial Day.

Every year since 2011, hundreds have gathered on the last Sunday of September to pay tribute to Minnesota firefighters who've died in the line of duty.

"We've lost a total of 244 men and women since the records were started back in the late 1800s," said Jay Wood, the president of the Minnesota Fire Service Foundation.

Two names were added to the memorial on the state Capitol grounds on Sunday to represent the two firefighters who died in the line of duty over the last year. They were leaders within the Hopkins and St. Paul fire departments and both died from cardiac arrest.

In November 2022, Hopkins Assistant Fire Chief James "Jimmy" Scanlon went into cardiac arrest hours after he and Chief Dale Specken responded to a call together.

"This was the first time in 140 years that we've lost a firefighter," Specken said. "Jimmy was always there. He was ‘an 85 percenter,’ we called him. He made 85 percent of our calls. He was one of our assistant chiefs in charge of hazmat."

Then, St. Paul lost Fire Capt. Chris Parsons in June. Parsons was a big advocate for firefighter health and safety and spoke out about the support they needed during the pandemic.

"Chris right away knew that frontline workers, firefighters, paramedics, etc., needed to be taken care of, and he championed legislation for many different areas to protect the fire service in Minnesota," Wood said. 

This year's ceremony was particularly emotional because, in previous years, both of the firefighters were heavily involved with the memorial. Parsons helped fundraise to build the memorial in St. Paul and Scanlon usually ran the soundboard for the ceremony. "It meant a lot for us to have all these folks here and not only remembering him, but all of the 244 that have gone before us," Specken said.

Both firefighters’ families received flags that have been flown over the state Capitol.