Service to honor those who died in the line of duty

Next weekend’s annual memorial service for fallen Peninsula police officers and firefighters is not just a ceremony to the co-workers and loved ones of those who died serving the community.

For many of them, the service is also their annual emotional bandage, and one of the few days it is acceptable to become emotional in their uniform.

“It’s nice to see the support because its what’s gotten everybody through it,” said Kenneth Chetcuti, whose uncle, David Chetcuti, was murdered while on duty as a Millbrae police officer in 1998.

“I just think that it’s important that the community doesn’t forget. They were heroes then and they should still be our heroes now,” he said.

It is that sort of healing and the opportunity for remembrance that Redwood City fire Capt. Greg Da Cunha was hoping for when he started the ceremony the year after Sept. 11. It is now held every year, the Sunday before Sept. 11, and features bagpipers and a chaplain.

All other members of the service, including speakers and soloists, are fully informed public safety officials, including local police, fire, sheriffs, highway patrol, and AMR officers and their families.

Da Cunha started the service after he responded in February 2001 to a cardiac-related incident at Redwood City fire station 11, which turned out to be the fatal collapse of fellow firefighter Matt Smith. The two had attended fire academy together and were great friends. Smith was 33.

The names of each of the 40 fallen officers in San Mateo County on record are read each year by a member of that officer’s agency. A member of the agency or a family member then places a rose on the alter and a Redwood City fireboat is later used to scatter the roses across the Bay.

“As time goes on you get busy and I think there’s a possibility that they sort of get forgotten,” Da Cunha said of the fallen officers.
A firefighter and police officer also take a few minutes to speak freely on the impact losing a co-worker has on that organization.
“That’s really been pretty moving” in the past, Da Cunha said. “Sometimes it gets emotional.”

The police speech this year will be given by a detective from the East Palo Alto Police Department, which suffered through the last on-duty officer death in the county when Officer Richard May was shot to death in January 2006.

The nondenominational service will begin at 10 a.m. Sept. 7 inside the Cunningham Memorial Chapel at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

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