Project Blue Light ceremony for fallen first responders

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Local law enforcement and firefighters hold blue plastic candles in honor of those in the profession who were killed while on duty. Seven police officers and firefighters from Michigan who were killed in 2017 were honored, as well as many from Northeast Michigan who died in the past.

ALPENA — Christmas trees at the APlex were decorated with red and blue lights Tuesday night during the annual Project Blue Light ceremony in remembrance of law enforcement and firefighters who lost lives while serving their communities.

Project Blue Light was established in 1988 to honor a fallen police officer in Pennsylvania and grew from there. It was expanded to include firefighters who died while on the job after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

It is the 18th year the event has been held in Alpena thanks to work and planning by Gloria Egelski, whose son Bryon was a Michigan State Police trooper who died in 1994 while on duty.

There were more than a few tears shed for the fallen heroes during the event, which was emotional yet inspirational. Alpena County Sheriff Steve Kieliszewski said the reality of the loss and grief of people who have lost loved ones really hits home during the event. The list of police and firefighters include Alpena natives who died, as well as those who died in Alpena.

“It’s very somber and very moving when you see the amount of people who have lost their lives in the line of duty,” Kieliszewski said. “The list started very small, but it keeps growing and growing. It is sad, but it’s a great event to honor them.”

Guest speaker Julie Secontine, who is a retired Michigan state fire marshal, said it takes a special person to put their life in harm’s way day in and day out in order to protect others. She thanked all of the current and retired police and firefighters in attendance for their commitment to people.

“There is no greater calling than when a man or a woman lays down their life in the service of others,” she said. “We owe everyone in this room a debt of gratitude. You are the first to be called and the first to arrive when things go horribly wrong in our communities. You see things no one should have to see and perform the duties few have the courage to perform and sacrifice your lives so others may live.”

After Secontine’s address, local police and fire officials carried faux blue candles to the stage in honor of police and firefighters killed in Michigan in 2017, and over the years in Northeast Michigan. A moment of silence was held and then Amazing Grace was played by Justin Sytek.

MSP Alpena Post Commander First Lt. John Grimshaw said that over the last several years police have been under attack, protested and at times taken for granted. He said he believes the tide is turning, however, and the country is rallying behind them once again.

Grimshaw said in 2016, 147 police officers were killed in the United States and that number has dropped to 118 so far this year. In 2016 there were 89 firefighters who died on the job and 81 so far in 2017. He said police officers and firefighters are more than just people who wear a badge, but members of the community they love and take an oath to protect.

“We live in the community we work in. Our children go to its schools and all we want is the best and safest environment for all of the citizens that we serve,” Grimshaw said.

At the end of the event a pair of Christmas trees were lighted. One with blue lights for fallen police officers and the other red for firefighters who lost their lives on duty. Fire trucks and police cars were parked outside the APlex and as the event concluded their flashing lights were turned on and lit up the ballroom.

Residents are encouraged to place a blue light on their Christmas tree or in their window in support of Project Blue Light and the emergency responders who serve today, served in the past, and those who lost their lives.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews.