Philly pays tribute to fallen police, firefighters at Living Flame Memorial

A chill breeze filled Franklin Square in Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood on Wednesday as families of fallen members of the city’s fire and police departments joined with city officials for the annual memorial service held in honor of those who died in service to the city the year before.

At the park’s Living Flame Memorial, dedicated to all members of the city’s fire and police departments who died in the line of duty, Mayor Jim Kenney, Police Commissioner Richard Ross, Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel and others gathered for a service highlighting the lives of firefighter Gabriel G. Lee and police officers Douglas Bamberger and Raymond Diaz, Jr., who all died in 2016.

“We will never be able to express our full gratitude for their sacrifice,” Michael DiBerardinis, the city’s managing director, told the gathered crowd.

In telling the crowd that each of the individuals being memorialized on Tuesday had died far too young – both Lee and Bamberger were just 42, and Diaz was just 47 – DiBerardinis shared stories of each man and the devoted service they provided to the city.

Lee, of Germantown, DiBerdinis said, was a devoted family man and amateur boxer who served for nearly two decades as a member of the Philadelphia Fire Department. After working a late shift for North Philadelphia’s Ladder Company 12, Engine 50, on July 23 of last year, Lee collapsed and died at his fire house. He was later found to have been suffering from heart disease.

Philadelphia Police Officer Bamberger, of the city’s Mayfair neighborhood, died on October 16, after suffering a heart attack while on duty at the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia. He was a police veteran with 16 years on the force. In his time as an officer, Bamberger had been assigned to the city’s 25th District, serving North Philadelphia, the First District in South Philadelphia and, finally, the city’s Court Liaison Unit. 

Officer Diaz passed away on Sept. 9, after succumbing to injuries he suffered in a vehicle accident while on duty. Diaz, of Holmesburg, served for 20 years as a member of North Philadelphia’s 24th Police District.

The names of all three will be added to the Living Flame Memorial.

“No matter the incident. No matter the call. We arrive together, we serve together, and, unfortunately, sometimes we die together,” said Fire Commissioner Thiel. “We all hope that, next year at this time, we won’t be enrolling any of our members’ names into this honor.”

Before he joined others in placing memorial wreathes at the Living Flame Memorial, Mayor Kenney noted that Philadelphia residents owe police officers and firefighters “a daily debt of gratitude” and that the memories of those who passed away would remain “forever in our hearts.”

“Please know that we will never forget the sacrifices that your family members made,” Police Commissioner Ross told the gathered families.

According to the city, since 1871, 291 members of the Philadelphia Fire Department have died in the line of duty and, since 1828, there have been 272 recorded deaths of Philadelphia police officers who have died while in service to the city.