COLUMBIA — The crowd was a sea of red and black.
Rigs lined up near Memorial Funeral Home and Cosmo Park, preparing to begin the procession honoring Columbia Fire Department Lt. Bruce Britt, who died Saturday after a walkway collapsed at University Village apartments. He is the second firefighter to be killed in the line of duty in Columbia.
Police officers on motorcycles led the group, with nine Fire Department trucks following. Next came motorcyclists — Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers and members of the Patriot Guard Riders. Trucks from other fire districts around the state lined up behind them.
Faces down and hunched into jackets in temperatures below 20 degrees, they tried to keep warm early Thursday morning as police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel waited to begin their trek to The Crossing, where Britt's memorial service was being held on the city's south side.
"Lt. Britt was our brother and he deserves this (memorial)," Columbia Fire Department Battalion Chief Brad Fraizer said. "The fire department is going through a grieving process right now, and this is all honoring Lt. Britt."
More than 40 fire departments, police departments and emergency personnel were represented in the procession.
"The fire department is one big family no matter where you're at, so being able to support a fallen brother is one big honor for us," said firefighter Anthony Shiflett of the Armstrong Fire Protection District in Howard County.
Several people spoke of the brotherhood among firefighters: They look out for one another and support each other, especially in times of hardship.
"These are sad reminders of how dangerous our jobs can be, so we support him by showing up," said firefighter Neil Fredrick of the Gravois Fire Protection District in Laurie.
While they might not see each other every day or personally know one another, the firefighters consider each other family, said Ryan Smith, a St. Robert firefighter. He said he didn't know Britt, but he attended the services and took part in the procession to show his support.
The fire departments' strong connection and bond extends into the fallen firefighters' families, especially in these times of need, Fraizer said.
"Lt. Britt's wife is an extremely strong woman," he said. "Their family is a part of our family, so we're taking care of them."
Many of the firefighters said they had attended multiple funerals this year for fallen firefighters. Three firefighters died in the line of duty in 2012 in Missouri. While it doesn't get easier over time, the firefighters agreed that expressing condolences to the family and friends was necessary.
"You look back at it later, and I hope the family sees how much support and honor there was for him," said Andy Jordan of the Lebanon Fire Department. "I hope it gives them solace and comfort."
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