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Paying tribute to fallen heroes: EMS memorial service expands travels from coast to coast

The National EMS Memorial Service’s memorial caravan left from California for the first time


Hall Ambulance Service, Inc./Facebook

By John Donegan
The Bakersfield Californian

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Twenty-eight days. Six thousand miles. And a painting of a tree, decked in brass.

A single-car caravan carrying a memorial to 59 fallen first responders will stop in Bakersfield on Saturday morning as a part of the Moving Honors Program, a nationwide tour that started in Riverside and is scheduled to finish July 21 in Arlington, Va.

National EMS Memorial Service, the national nonprofit leading the program, chose Hall Ambulance to handle the ceremony, which will begin promptly at 9 a.m. in front of the Hall Ambulance mural at 21st and N streets in downtown Bakersfield.

Mark Corum, director of media services for Hall Ambulance, said the hourlong event is free and open to the public. He warned that N Street between 20th and 21st streets will be closed for the ceremony. Afterward, an escort by the Bakersfield Police Department will lead the procession west on 21st toward eastbound Highway 58.

“We’re honored to be a host,” Corum said. “And we want to invite the public out for an opportunity to honor and recognize first responders.”

Bakersfield is the second of 26 stops for the cross-country procession meant to honor emergency medical services personnel who have died in the line of duty. Each ceremony will feature the procession’s Tree of Life: a portrait of an oak tree, hand-painted and adorned with brass leaves etched with the names of fallen EMS workers.

Corum said each name will be read aloud, followed by a bagpipe performance and a moment of silence. There will also be a presentation of colors and comments from guest speakers.

In total, the ambulance will travel 6,500 miles in 28 days before arriving in Virginia for the National EMS Weekend of Honor July 21-23.

“It’s a long drive, but I’m honored to be a part of this,” said Tom Liebman, treasurer for the National EMS Memorial Service board of directors, who’s riding along until the stop in Las Vegas. “We’ll see people along the overpasses and on the side of the road cheering us on as we arrive in each community.”

Without a permanent home — organizers said they’re still trying to get a permanent EMS memorial site in Washington, D.C. — the procession provides a chance for communities to mourn, as many cannot make the trip to the East Coast for the annual ceremony.

“For many years, we’ve worked to get approval and go through a selection process for a site,” Liebman said. “And a lot of people can’t just travel to Arlington.”

This is the first time the procession, now in its third year, has expanded to California; previously it began in Texas. Additionally, the tree has grown bigger in recent years, to include more names.

“Because of COVID, this has been a normal amount, but historically we are around 30 people (on the tree),” Liebman said. “It’d be nice if we were at zero, but this is a dangerous job.”

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