Firefighter Funeral Definitions

Definition of Words relating to Firefighter Funeral Services


Badge presentation

The Fire Chief may wish to make a formal presentation of the name tag and badge worn by the fallen firefighter to the next of kin. The badge and tag should be in a framed shadow box or display that also includes a department uniform patch.

Badge shroud

The period of mourning includes placing a piece of black tape or material horizontally over the center of the uniformed badge. Do not shroud a chaplain’s badge that contains a cross, a crescent, tablets, or the Star of David.

Bagpipers

Well known for serving during police funerals; also used in traditional fire service ceremony. Bagpipers accompany and play music while the casket is being moved (in and out of the church, for example) and, if desired, during the service.

Bell service (“Last Alarm” or “Last Call”)

– After the religious ceremony or at interment, a fire department member reads a prepared statement about the firefighter’s last call. A portable fire department bell is then tolled by another member. In some traditions, it is tolled three time; in others, three sets of three; and in others, three sets of five. The bell ringing recalls a time when the fire bell rang to call firefighters to an alarm and then, again, to signal that the alarm had ended.

Bugler

The playing of Taps is one of the final activities at the committal. Either an on-site bugler, if one is available, or a recorded playing of taps is acceptable. If live, the bugler stands about 75 feet from the burial site.

Casket watch

The vigil performed by the honor guard at the viewing or wake.

Closed casket

In cases where the family specifies a closed casket for the viewing and/or funeral, a photo of the firefighter in uniform may be placed on or next to the casket, along with his clean helmet or dress hat.

Color guards

Members who are formally trained in the ceremonial carrying and presentation of the national and local flags. A color guard often includes two armed persons (in the case of a fire department color guard, each will carry a ceremonial pick ax). If your department doesn’t have a trained color guard, check with the American Legion or VFW.

Crossed ladders

In a formal LODD funeral, there may be two aerial trucks crossing extended ladders or booms, located at the entrance to the cemetery (or en route), with the American flag hanging from the apex of the extended ladders.

Eulogy

The formal speech in memory of the one who has passed; may be offered at the wake, at the funeral, or at the committal by a family member, close friend, clergy, dignitary, or fire service member. The family decides what, when, where, and by whom the eulogy is given.

Fire engine caisson

Traditionally a caisson, or horse-drawn wagon, was used to transport the casket of a dignitary to the cemetery; a fire engine (a pumper, for example) may be used to transport the casket of a fallen firefighter. It would be cleaned, stripped of hoses, and draped with bunting for this purpose.

Firing party

Similar to a 21-gun salute; if a military-type firing party is used, they fire three volleys at a position of about 75 feet from the burial site. Because the sudden noise can be startling to the mourners, make people at the service are aware if this tribute is planned.

Flag

If the department has its own flag, it can be used to drape the casket at the wake or the funeral service. If a department flag is not available, a local, association, or state flag can be used. If the deceased was a veteran or died in the line of duty, an American flag may be used. The flag is folded by two pallbearers or members of the honor guard and presented to the chief or a third member, who presents it to the family at interment.

Flower unit

In addition to the engine that is used as a caisson, a second fire department vehicle may be used to transport flowers during the procession from church or funeral home to cemetery.

Hearse

Vehicle provided by the funeral home to carry the casket, if an engine is not used.

Honor guard

One or (more commonly) two uniformed fire service members who stand at attention at the head and foot of the casket during the wake or viewing. The honor guard also may have special formations at walk through, while the casket is being carried from funeral home to hearse, on entry and exit from the church, and on either side of the path at the cemetery or final resting place.

Honor detail

Uniformed and visiting department members who are not part of the honor guard but are present to pay tribute.

Line of duty death

A death that happens as a direct and immediate or later result of an on-duty incident, e.g., a traumatic injury during a fire resulting in immediate decease, or severe smoke inhalation that later causes long-term complications leading to death.

Mourning period

Flags are lowered to half-staff until the day after funeral, immediately after the service, or at sunset on the day of the service; badges are shrouded for 30 days; dark bunting is draped on the station sign or building for 30 days, sometimes along with dark floral arrangements, depending on department tradition and customs. When the American flag is flown at half-staff, no other flags shall be flown with it.

Pallbearers

Selected by the family from among friends or department members or, if the family declines, can be selected by the department from among department members. Department members who act as pallbearers are in formal dress: Class A uniforms with hats and white gloves. Pallbearers’ duties include carrying the flag-draped casket (or the cremated remains and the flag separately); riding on department engines if used as caisson and flower vehicle; and folding the flag that draped the casket. Honorary pallbearers may be uniformed members or family or friends of the deceased who are placed in an honorary position leading the casket.

Procession

The line of vehicles proceeding from funeral home or church to place of interment or committal. The procession may pass the firefighter’s home or fire station; if passing the fire station, it is appropriate for personnel to assemble outside, come to attention, and toll a bell that has been muffled. It also is appropriate to park apparatus outside in a display of respect.

Station bunting

Black mourning drapes and, sometimes, dark floral arrangements that are placed on the outside of the firefighter’s fire station or other stations that wish to show respect for the fallen.

Survivor Action Officer

Either acts as the direct liaison with the family or supervises the team that includes the family liaison officer.

Uniform

The department’s family liaison should ask the family if they choose to have deceased buried in uniform; if so, the department must provide a uniform to the funeral home.

Ushers

Can be chosen from among department members (10 recommended); family may request specific individuals.

Vehicle bunting

Black mourning drapes that signify a death and decorate fire vehicles participating in the procession as either caisson or flower unit.

Walk through

A ceremonial, unified tribute by uniformed members and dignitaries who, at a predetermined time, enter the wake or viewing and pass in single file by the casket, with each firefighter pausing briefly to pay tribute.

See also:
Firefighter Funeral Customs
Types of Firefighter Funerals
Additional Firefighter Funeral Resources
Return to Funeral Customs Overview