By Angel MedFlight Contributor
The large American flag flapped slightly in the wind, hung from a pair of ladder trucks. With nearly 1,000 firefighters gathered around the gravesite, the only sounds for hours came from the gentle breeze blowing through the palm trees overhead and the rippling of the flag. Firefighters and first responders, some from as far away as Canada, came to pay their final respects to Bradley Harper. The 23-year-old Phoenix firefighter died in the line of duty May 19.
Representatives from Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance attended the burial ceremony last Friday at Greenwood/Memory Lawn Cemetery in Phoenix. We were there to show our support for our fallen brother in the Emergency Medical Services community. Angel MedFlight’s team includes critical care flight paramedics who have also worked for ground ambulance companies and fire departments in past careers. Angel MedFlight Clinical Logistics Manager Troy Miller is a former Rural/Metro firefighter and paramedic. “We are one big family and it’s like paying respects to someone’s brother, sister, mother or father,” said Miller.
The long procession from the church in Peoria, Ariz., began arriving at the Phoenix cemetery around 5:30 p.m. Dozens of motorcycle patrolmen riding slowly in two columns were the first arrive. Behind them came Harper’s flag-draped casket, carried atop engine 21. Several other emergency vehicles trailed the fire truck bearing Harper’s casket and more than 100 others parked outside the cemetery gates along West Van Buren St.
It took over an hour for the large number of attendees to file into the cemetery. Not only firefighters and their families but policemen and women, state troopers and members of the highway patrol. United States Air Force personnel were present and perhaps most touching, passersby who happened upon the impressive yet somber scene.
This writer was moved by a small boy who peeled off from the rest of his family walking outside the cemetery to approach the gate. He was stopped by a police officer who bent down to speak to him. They spoke in Spanish but it was clear the little boy wanted to witness the event. Moments later the officer gave a wave and the rest of the family crossed the street and entered the grounds. The small boy and his family stood by silently watching in reverence and waiting for the burial ceremony to begin.
The temperature on this late Friday afternoon was in the mid to high 90s. Yet despite the heat, Harper’s comrades stood at attention in their dark uniforms, never wavering.
Harper’s pallbearers climbed to the top of the fire truck to carry the casket down to the gravesite. Their movements were slow and precise. A voice called for all men and women in uniform to salute. In unison, over 1,000 right hands, many with white gloves, moved slowly upward and rested at eye level. Traditional bagpipers assembled from numerous fire departments, some wearing black bearskin hats, played “Amazing Grace.”
The actual ceremony was relatively brief. Harper was buried with full honors so a lone bugler played taps and a flag detail made 12 folds of the Stars and Stripes before handing it to his widow. Harper and his wife were high school sweethearts and were married last December.
Before helicopters in a missing man formation flew overhead, Harper’s last call was read over a loudspeaker:
“Phoenix firefighter Brad Harper your duties are completed at 2300 West Van Buren. This is your final resting place. Rest in peace Brad. You’ll be greatly missed.”
Angel MedFlight offers condolences to the family of Brad Harper, a young man who gave his life while helping to save others.