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Camaraderie and respect valued by honor guard

Camaraderie and respect valued by honor guard

October 22nd, 2018 by Jeff Haldiman in Local News

Members of the Cole County Fire Protection District Honor Guard pictured are, left to right: Mike Hart, Mason Luebbering, Larry Rizner, Shawn York, Blake Bopp, Steve Cearlock and Gary Berendzen.

What started as a way to help christen a new fire station has become something much more special.

Ten years ago, Larry Rizner, of the Cole County Fire Protection District, put together an honor guard of district firefighters as they opened their new facility on Monticello Road.

Over the years, the guard has gone on to represent the district at numerous special events around Mid-Missouri, such as the Heart Ball and Relay for Life, as well as presenting the colors on several occasions at the Missouri State Capitol.

"I think we do this more as a service to the community," Rizner said. "I was on an honor guard in the Navy, and I always enjoyed what we did."

Those who serve in the guard said Rizner's passion for making sure respect is given to the flag and to what first responders stand for are the reasons the guard has stayed together over the years.

"We do this, I think, out of love," guard member Mike Hart said. "It's a passion to do the right thing and honor people, both those who are living and those who have passed on."

The group, which includes Shawn York, Blake Bopp, Steve Cearlock and Mason Luebbering, has stood guard at the caskets of not only Cole County firefighters who have died, but also at the funerals of firefighters and first responders from other parts of the state.

"When I'm standing at a casket, it's hard to do, but it makes me feel honored," guard member Gary Berendzen said.

The seven honor guard members include assistant chiefs, captains and lieutenants, but they emphasize there are no ranks when it comes to serving in the guard.

"It's that pride within you that let's you carry on, and we wouldn't do it without having that pride," Cearlock said. "When you post those colors, it's to honor all those public servants, wherever they serve."

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It may seem like a simple act of putting on a dress uniform and carrying the flag, but the guard members said doing the job properly takes a lot of time and attention to detail.

"You are at the Jefferson City High School homecoming parade and trying to keep everyone in step going up a hill. That takes practice," Cearlock said. "At funerals, there is a process of how you stand guard at caskets and how you have to load them onto either a hearse or fire truck. We have protocols that have to be done. It takes training."

Rizner has had some health issues in recent years, but he plans to keep going with the guard as long as possible.

"There's a lot of traditions that are lost in the fire department," Rizner said. "As the older members get out of it, the young people sometimes don't pick up on those things."

"This is not something we want lost," Hart added. "This has been a part of not only the fire service but the military as well, and it's an honor to be a part of that."

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