EMMITSBURG, Md. — Dwain Hudson had less than two years of service with a volunteer fire department in South Dakota before the stress of the job cost him his life. On Sunday, his service and sacrifice was honored at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

On April 17, 2019, Hudson, a 73-year-old firefighter with the Argyle Volunteer Fire Department, was dispatched to a fire south of Custer. While en route, Hudson suffered a medical emergency.

Firefighters on his vehicle noticed he had fallen unconscious, and requested an ambulance. Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful, and he was pronounced dead at a Custer hospital.

A firefighter fatality notice published by the United States Fire Administration in July 2020 said Hudson suffered a heart attack as a result of overexertion and stress.

Hudson was named to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s (NFFF) 2020 Roll of Honor, commemorating and honoring the sacrifices of firefighters from across the United States who paid the ultimate price.

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This year’s NFFF memorial ceremony — which took place Sunday at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Maryland — paid homage to 215 American firefighters who have passed since 2019.

“That number is much higher than usual because the global pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s memorial weekend,” said Dave Statter, a communications consultant for the foundation.

This year’s Roll of Honor also included firefighters who lost their battle with COVID-19.

“Today is a day of both great pain and great pride,” Jan Gardner, executive of Frederick County (Maryland), said at Sunday’s gathering. “We take comfort in knowing that the men and women we are honoring sacrificed themselves in service to others. That truly is the greatest expression of love — and it is love that brings us together.”

Dwain Hudson was a volunteer firefighter with the local station in Argyle. He died in 2019 while responding to a fire near Custer. Photo courtesy of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation
Dwain Hudson was a volunteer firefighter with the local station in Argyle. He died in 2019 while responding to a fire near Custer. Photo courtesy of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation

The memorial, constructed in 1981, is a 7-foot-tall stone monument featuring a sculpted Maltese cross, the traditional symbol of the fire service. The base of the monument is the Eternal Flame, symbolizing the spirit of all firefighters — past, present and future.

The names of fallen firefighters are engraved on plaques and bricks, which surround the memorial.

“The names of the memorial not only memorialize those men and women, but also represent the history of the American fire service,” acting U.S. Fire Administrator Tonya Hoover said. “Behind every name is a story of service and sacrifice.”

Troy Markel, chairman of the NFFF, said the foundation’s mission goes beyond memorializing the names of fallen firefighters, but also to help families in their time of grief.

Each family of a fallen firefighter was presented with a personalized badge, a red rose and an American flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol and the memorial.

Before he became a volunteer firefighter in Argyle, Hudson served as a Florida state trooper and even had a stint with the Department of Homeland Security as a firearms instructor.

The commemoration came as Fire Prevention Week kicked off across the nation Sunday.

South Dakota State Fire Marshal Paul Merriman wants the public to focus on the sounds of fire safety this year, encouraging individuals to familiarize themselves with the chirps of their fire and carbon monoxide alarms.

Congress created the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation to lead a nationwide effort to honor America’s fallen firefighters. Since 1992, the nonprofit has developed and expanded programs that fulfill that mandate. Their mission is to honor and remember America’s fallen fire heroes, provide resources to assist their families in rebuilding their lives and work within the fire service community to reduce firefighter deaths and injuries.