First responders from across the state gathered Wednesday at the Capitol for Firefighters Day, an annual event which recognizes the importance of the fire service in protecting Missourians and their property.
Missouri's fire service has more than 24,000 career and volunteer responders who work in more than 850 departments.
Those who attended the ceremony were greeted by a display from the Jefferson City Fire Department which used two of its ladder trucks to display a large American flag at the east entrance to the Capitol on East Capitol Avenue.
Department of Public Safety Director Drew Juden told the crowd firefighters are continuing to lose their lives while answering calls to service, and they are facing a new threat — dying from cancer due to exposure to toxins and hazardous materials at sites they respond.
"For many years, these deadly toxins have gotten into the gear that firefighters use while out on calls," he said. "It is a silent killer. We can honor their lives by we and all of our brothers and sisters making sure to take care of our equipment after every call."
Juden also called for continued efforts to put smoke alarms in all residential structures. As of this week, he noted, 34 fire fatalities have happened in Missouri this year, and in all but one of the incidents there were not working smoke detectors in the homes.
Juden said Missouri is working with the American Red Cross on its "Sound the Alarm" campaign. From April 28 through May 13, teams of volunteers will install 100,000 free smoke alarms in more than 100 cities around the country.
Gov. Eric Greitens also addressed the crowd Wednesday, thanking firefighters and their families for their service and pledging to continue to find ways to support their work. Greitens said he was pleased at the response to the initiative the Public Safety Department has begun to implement which looks to cultivate an interest in firefighting among veterans.
Missouri Fire Marshal Tim Bean said the military and fire departments share many of the same structures. Fire departments, especially volunteer departments, struggle to find recruits and since veterans often know how to pull off water rescues, extrication from cars and other skills that transition into the fire service, he said.
The pilot event for the program took place in February in Jefferson City. Similar events will be April 12 in Cassville and May 12 in Springfield. Other events will be scheduled in Kansas City and Poplar Bluff.
"Anytime there is a tragedy, this community comes together," Greitens said. "We want to make sure that we do all we can to make sure they come home safely to their families."