MANATEE COUNTY — Joe Griffith knows well the dangers first-responders face every day at work as well as the sacrifices they make — sometimes with their own lives.
And he and a team of volunteers are on mission to make sure their efforts are not overlooked, especially in death.
Griffith is president of the Manatee County Honor Guard, an all-volunteer group that provides its services at funerals of fallen or retired first-responders. Guard members carry the casket from the funeral home and the church to the cemetery. The also stand watch during wakes and viewings and fold the national flag for presentation to the family by the department’s chief.
“We want to show respect for the people who came before us,” Griffith said. “It’s the least we can do to show respect for their families. We are there to show respect to the people who have passed away.”
Other responsibilities include posting colors at ceremonies such as parades, academy graduations, city events and sporting events.
Now, the guard is seeking donations to purchase matching uniforms for all members. Presently, volunteers wear their “Class A” uniforms, which include black jackets, caps and dress pants. Although they look similar, each uniform is unique to the fire district it represents, and various badges and stripes signify rank.
The dress uniform is intended to be a symbol of respect, honor and dedication of all first responders, both past and present, Griffith said. Having matching uniforms, which will look similar to the formal dress of the U.S. Marines, will mirror that idea.
“Honor shows no rank and respect is universal,” Griffith said.
Each uniform will cost members about $750; currently the guard is more than halfway through its $17,000 goal.
Matching uniforms also will help the organization succeed in future honor guard competitions, Griffith said.
The guard, which currently is applying for non-profit status, formed in October 2008. Manatee County EMS already had an honor guard, but after the Sept. 11 ceremonies that year, several firefighters expressed interest in forming their own honor guard unit.
Instead, fire department employees from Southern Manatee, Myakka, the city of Bradenton and East Manatee fire districts joined the EMS group to form the Manatee County Honor Guard.
“We all just merged together,” Griffith said.
The group’s commander, Ron Dorsey, provided the new volunteers with a weeklong training, and the organization has been gaining momentum since.
In its first year, the group has appeared at five Rays games, posted colors for promotion ceremonies within fire departments and carried caskets at three funerals. Griffith said he hopes to raise more awareness about the group and its purpose.
The Manatee County Honor Guard will be participating in the 9 a.m., Sept. 11, Memorial Service at Anthony T. Rossi Waterfront Park in Bradenton and the Tribute to Heroes luncheon following at 11:30 a.m. at the Bradenton Municipal Auditorium.
The guard also will be competing in the First Annual Manatee County Emergency Services Chili Cook Off from 3-10 p.m., Sept. 12, on Lakewood Ranch Main Street.
For more information about the Manatee County Honor Guard or to make a donation, visit the organization’s Web site at www.manateecountyhonorguard.org.
Contact Pam McTeer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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