It’s been 100 years since Nebraska City has hosted the Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighters Association Annual Conference.

A lot has changed since 1915, such as firefighting and emergency equipment and technology. Nebraska City Fire & Rescue firefighter and EMT Ben Murry, who helped organize the event, said it took five years to plan for a conference of this magnitude.

The 133rd annual conference brought in firemen and women, EMTs and emergency responders from all over the state of Nebraska.

“It was a great turnout with over 230 people who showed up for the banquet,” Murry said. “I think the conference went rather well.”

Murry said the conference, which ran from Oct. 15 through Sunday morning, was very informative and provided a great opportunity to network with other fire departments across the state to do some problem solving, learn new techniques and to see what’s going on in the Legislature.

Murry was grateful for the conference being hosted by the Lied Lodge & Conference Center.

The most emotional segment of the conference was the 2015 Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service Oct. 16, where attendees recognized fellow firefighters and Auxilary members who had died in the past year.

As people found their seats, a bagpipe version of “Amazing Grace” was played. Special guest and NSVFA Chaplain Todd Burpo gave the invocation. Burpo, who has been a firefighter for about 17 years, is known as the father of Colton Burpo and author of “Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.” The 2010 New York Times best-seller was made into a movie called “Heaven is for Real,” where then 4-year-old Colton Burpo of Imperial had died in an operating room, went to Heaven, was introduced to family members that he had never met before and also met Jesus.

After Burpo’s invocation, people grabbed the nearest tissue as Bette Midler’s “Wind Beaneath My Wings” was played. Burpo then took to the podium to address those in attendance who answer emergency calls and pages. Burpo said they may not have a choice as to what the emergency is, but they do have the choice to respond.

“Let me tell you, you stand alone in a pretty small group. I’m proud of you because there’s not a lot of people in this world that would be able to stand with you and make a decision to do what you’re doing,” he said. “When that pager goes off, our decision to respond, regardless of the problem, is how we can determine that we made a decision to help … and most people don’t understand that.”

During the church-like sermon, Burpo said the firefighters, EMTs and emergency responders aren’t alone when it comes to helping others.

“Jesus came into this world to help people, regardless of what their problems were,” he said. “He came from Heaven, he looked down and said, ‘Dad, these people are a mess. Can I help them?’”

Burpo said many people won’t understand what firefighters, EMTs and emergency responders do and the sacrifices they make daily to keep their communities safe. He added the memorial service is the perfect opportunity to thank those who have died within the past year.

“So what we’re doing right now at this memorial service is so important for the people that have done this because we need to say thank you because we’re probably the only ones that will,” he said. “Not only can we say thank you to those people and those families that have gone on before, we have an awesome privilege and responsibility, I think, to say thank you to those people that have served for so many years.”

Nebraska City Fire & Rescue First Assistant Fire Chief Dennis Marshall read the names of 44 firefighters and four Auxiliary members who have died this year in Nebraska.

“May they rest in peace,” Marshall said after reading all of their names.

Nebraska City Fire & Rescue firefighter Lenny Tietz had the distinction of perfuming a time-honored tradition of striking a bell fives times in four series. “Striking the Four Fives” originated from a fire department in New York City in a time before radios and pagers. When a firefighter died in the line of duty or an important official or person had died, headquarters would transmit five bell strikes in four series, with a pause in the middle of each series, and a telegraph announcement would follow. According to the service’s program, this tradition dates back to at least 1865 at the New York City Fire Department to inform the rank and death of former President Abraham Lincoln.

“The signal 5-5-5-5 has been transmitted. It is with deep regret that the Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighters Association announces and recognizes the deaths of Nebraska firefighters and Auxiliary members who have died within the previous year,” Marshall said. “Their assignments are completed and they have returned to quarters.”

Burpo then recited the “Firefighter’s Prayer”:

“When I am called to duty, God
Whenever flames may rage,
Give me strength to save some life
Whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child
Before it is too late,
Or save an older person
From the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert
And hear the weakest shout,
And quickly and efficiently
To put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling
And to give the best in me,
To guard my every neighbor
And protect his property.
And if according to my fate
I am to lose my life,
Please bless with your protecting hand
My children and my wife.”

Those in attendance remained standing as Nebraska City Fire & Rescue fire apparatus engineer Steve Recker announced over the radio the “Last Call,” and Bruce Merrill then played “Taps” on a trumpet.

Nebraska City Fire & Rescue firefighter and EMT Stephen Cody said Recker has done the “Last Call” radio broadcasts before.

“Whenever Recker does that ‘Last Call’ … he does it really good with a lot of respect.”

Marshall reminded guests about what they’re called to do and how their service affects many.

“That which man does for himself dies with him,” he said. “That which man does for his community lives forever and that’s exactly what we do.”

Cody said the memorial service is always a solemn moment.

“The memorial service is always enough to bring a tear to your eye,” he said. “Being what we do and having to listen to all of the names of the people in the whole year (who have died) it hits home.”

Murry said it was a team effort in organizing the conference. Murry said the conference as a whole wouldn’t have been a success without the help of the Nebraska City Fire & Rescue crew.

“My favorite part was being able to work with the people that I get to work with every day and whenever a conflict would arise I knew that it would be handled,” he said. “I knew that I could rely on the people that were helping, just like I do every day on the job.”