Charred remains of devastating fire serve as poignant reminder at first-responders Mass

By Elizabeth Fisher
Special to the CS&T

BRISTOL – The skirl of bagpipe music formed the backdrop of a procession of police officers, firefighters and emergency service workers who lined up in dress blues on Sunday, Oct. 9, for the eighth annual Blue Mass at St. Mark Parish in Bristol.

Just blocks away from where the procession formed, the stone walls and skeletal interior of two brownstone buildings stood testament to the training and commitment of all emergency workers. On Oct. 1, flames consumed the 159-year-old building in what officials suspect was arson. Eight families escaped with their lives.

But on Sunday, many of the same volunteer firefighters who spent nearly 12 hours at the scene of the massive inferno expressed their gratitude for the support of the St. Mark community and the various dignitaries from surrounding communities who attended the Mass. {{more}}

“Sometimes people forget that we are the first line of defense for our country,” said Bristol Borough Mayor Robert Lebo, a retired police sergeant and a former firefighter.

St. Mark’s pastor, Father Dennis Mooney, started the Blue Mass at the parish to remind people of the work of emergency workers who put themselves in harm’s way to serve others.

“It is important that we pray for God’s protection for all of them,” Father Mooney said.

Among the dignitaries in attendance were: State Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, State Rep. Tony Melio, Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo and Bristol Township Mayor John Monahan. John Doster, 91, a fire policeman who still responds to every call, also attended.

Bristol Township Police Lt. Terry Hughes, who attends the Blue Mass with his family every year, praised Father Mooney for his dedication to those who put their lives on the line every day. It was, he said, one of the few times that police officers get a “thank you” from the community.

Tullytown firefighter Dale Mastrull, a St. Mark parishioner, believes bringing the three emergency services together in a faith-based context helps build a better sense of community and highlights the need for prayer.

Borough Bristol police officer Pete Faight is also a St. Mark parishioner and one of many Bristol cops who regularly attend Sunday Mass at the parish – often in uniform. Faight is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion who served during the Blue Mass.

“Father Mooney’s whole life is a ministry of service to us and to the military,” Faight said. “We appreciate him.”

Also remembered during the prayer of the faithful were those who died in the line of duty: Bristol firefighter Julian Bley and police officers George Stuckey (Bristol Township), James Armstrong (Bensalem), Brian Gregg (Newtown Borough) and Chris Jones (Middletown).

Robert Heddon, a member and former chief of the Falls Township Fire Department, called the Mass a spiritual boost to emergency workers.

“People see us in the midst of tragedy and trauma. We have to be our best when victims are going through the worst times. The Blue Mass helps put our work in the context of our faith,” Hedden said.

Elizabeth Fisher is a freelance journalist and member of St. Mark Parish in Bristol.