BUFFALO -- Hundreds of firefighters, family and friends bowed their heads in prayer this morning at St. Joseph University Church to remember Lt. Charles W. "Chip" McCarthy Jr. and Firefighter Jonathan S. Croom a year after they died in a Genesee Street fire.
The somber remembrance drew more than 250 people -- many dressed in crisp blue uniforms -- to celebrate the lives of the two men and mark the Aug. 24 blaze that took their lives.
"There are still people hurting," said Rev. Joe Bayne, a fire chaplain for the Fire Department. "It hits home very hard when we have fires now. Some of them are easily taken back by it."
Bayne recalled the two as outgoing men who wouldn't run from disaster. He told the firefighters that, while it's difficult to understand why someone dies young, it's a decision left to God.
"We don't get to choose," Bayne said after the ceremony. "These two men were both young, but they lived life to the fullest, and it's not for us to choose."
The morning ceremony at St. Joseph University Church was part of a day of events that started before dawn with a private gathering at the Genesee Street site where the Super Speedy Deli caught fire a year ago at about 3:50 a.m.
Family and firefighters gathered in silence with candles and laid wreaths at the vacant lot, Bayne said.
The remembrance was followed by brief ceremonies at Rescue 1 and Ladder 7 for McCarthy and Croom.
"It's a tough day," Croom's mother, Angie Heusinger, said during the ceremony. "It's tougher than I thought it would be."
Peace, she said, has been hard to find. But she took comfort in the hundreds who gathered to remember her son and McCarthy today.
"As we gather here this morning," Heusinger said, "the one thing that stood out to me was to see how much my son and Chip were loved."