A Cambridge firefighter who died May 24, 2011 as the result of a training accident at the Cambridge Fire Hall was honored this past weekend at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service.
Chip Imker was one of the 80 firefighters who died in 2011, and five firefighters who died in previous years, who were remembered at the official national service held at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md. on Sunday, Oct. 7.
Cambridge Firefighter Dave Matchinsky, who joined the Minnesota Fallen Firefighters Memorial Association in the fall of 2011, attended the memorial events in honor of Imker’s family and the Cambridge Fire Department.
“Attending the events this past weekend brought on mixed emotions,” Matchinsky said. “I felt very humbled being there, and proud. It was quite the experience with a wide variety of emotions.”
The names of those firefighters who died in the line of duty were added to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial on the Academy grounds. The national tribute was sponsored by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) and the Department of Homeland Security.
More than 6,000 people, including members of Congress, administration officials and other dignitaries, members of the fire service, and families and friends of the fallen firefighters attended the event.
Families received flags flown over the U.S. Capitol and the National Memorial. Members of the fire service, honor guard units and pipe and drum units from across the U.S. participated in the national tribute.
Imker, a 1994 graduate of Cambridge-Isanti High School, had served on the Cambridge Fire Department for about 18 months when the accident occurred while practicing rope rescue training. Imker passed away at Hennepin County Medical Center from the injuries he sustained during the training.
“Chip and I started with the Cambridge Fire Department around the same time,” Matchinsky said. “We got along well and once in a while did things together outside of the department. Things fell into place for me to be able to go to the memorial service. I know Chip was looking down and laughing at me over all the formal events we were attending.”
Matchinsky was joined in Maryland by other members of the Minnesota Fallen Firefighters Memorial Association that included Dennis Stark from Alexandria, Jason Schmidtbauer from Golden Valley and David Hammer from Eagan.
On Saturday, Matchinsky spent the day attending meetings. He also met Joe Bley, the son of a fallen firefighter from Pennsylvania, who was the firefighter escort assigned to Imker’s family.
While in Maryland, Matchinsky did pencil rubbings over Imker’s plaque and also the plaque in honor of Debra R. Swanson, a Dalbo firefighter who was honored in 1985.
Swanson’s son, Andy Swanson, is the current fire chief of the Dalbo Fire Department.
Matchinsky explained a memory box was also made and decorated in honor of Imker that will be presented to Kristin Hill, Imker’s long-time girlfriend. Hill and Imker have two sons together.
Other events included a Red Helmet Ride, as well as a candlelight vigil service where luminaries were lit in honor of the fallen firefighters.
“Luminaires were lit and placed on a table in front of the candlelight memorial service,” Matchinsky said. “The service included presentations and songs of inspiration.”
The official ceremony on Sunday was held at Mount Saint Mary’s in the fieldhouse due to inclement weather.
“Families walked through a sea of blue with uniformed personnel lined up on the sides,” Matchinsky said. “The Honor Guard was there, and over 100 bagpipes were playing. When the name of the fallen firefighter was called, you would walk up with your escort where a member of the Honor Guard would present the flag to a fire chief. The flag that was presented to me on behalf of Imker was first presented to one of my colleagues from Minnesota, then to the fire chief of the Los Angeles Police Department who presented it to me. We will present the flag and Imker’s badge to Kristin (Hill). It was just a surreal moment. I don’t remember much from that exact moment.”
While he was in Maryland, Matchinsky, along with others from Minnesota, did Honor Guard duty for the Honor Flag from 5 to 6 a.m.
Since September 2001, the United States Honor Flag has paid tribute to those who have lost their lives in the line of duty protecting lives, homes and the country, and also those who currently serve in communities and the nation. The flag has travelled all over the country and the world.
Matchinsky said overall it was an emotional experience, and said he was grateful for the support he received from Aspen Mills Uniforms who donated part of his uniform that he wore in Maryland.
“Seeing Chip’s name on a plaque was hard,” Matchinsky said. “But our fire department has been doing good since the accident, and I think we have all grown closer. It was just an incredible experience to be out there.”
For a complete list of fallen firefighters that were honored, along with Memorial Weekend related videos, photos, media and broadcast information, visit Weekend.Firehero.org.