Ann Arbor Fire Department sending 2 honor guard members to Texas memorial service
Hundreds of firefighters from across the nation, including two from Ann Arbor, are expected to attend a memorial service Thursday at Baylor University in Texas for those who perished in the devastating plant explosion April 17.
Chris Nielsen and Chris Taylor head up the Ann Arbor Fire Department's honor guard, a group of 12 firefighters who participate in memorial services. The guard usually goes only to local events, but due to the severity of the Texas explosion — 10 firefighters killed — the two asked Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard if they could attend.
“I said absolutely," Hubbard said. "It hits home. It's a horrible tragedy. It was almost the whole department that got killed."
It didn't seem feasible to send all 12 members of the honor guard, so it was decided to send the group's two leaders.
“To send all 12 would be very expensive and not necessarily needed,” Nielsen said.
The trip will involve a variety of funding. The fire department is paying for half of the plane ticket with the union picking up the other half, Nielsen said. He and Taylor will pick up the costs for food, lodging and a rental car.
Hubbard did not know off-hand how much the trip was costing the department.
The two are set to leave early Thursday, attend the ceremony and return early Friday morning. Nielsen said they will be in Texas less than 24 hours.
“(I want to) show our support for our brothers and sisters," Nielsen added. "We’re all in this together.”
Both Hubbard and Nielsen brought up the show of support the Ann Arbor Fire Department received several years ago when one of their own, Amy Schnearle-Pennywitt, died after being struck by a pickup on an icy road while responding to a call for an accident.
Nielsen said firefighters came from New York City, Chicago and Indianapolis for her memorial service.
“It meant a lot. You knew people were there,” he said, adding that heading down to Texas to pay the same respect to the firefighters lost is "kind of paying it back.”
President Barack Obama is also scheduled to be at Thursday's ceremony, which starts at 2 p.m.