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Firefighters reflect on contributions of their colleagues

On Mond80th annual Memorial Day mass honors fallen firefighters.  |  John H. White~Sun-Times photos

On Monda, the 80th annual Memorial Day mass honors fallen firefighters. | John H. White~Sun-Times photos

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Updated: July 3, 2012 12:05PM

On a true Memorial Day for the Chicago Fire Department, its members paused Monday to honor those who have died in the past year and to reflect on an occupation where dangers never cease.

Firefighters interviewed at the department’s 80th annual mass agreed that while smoke alarms, sprinkler systems and high-rise evacuation plans often make the public feel more secure about fire threats, their own work has grown more perilous.

Technology people take for granted, such as plastics, synthetic fibers and certain construction techniques “are not firefighter friendly,” said fire Commissioner Jose Santiago.

Studies by Underwriters Laboratories have shown that synthetic material allows blazes to spread more rapidly while also giving off chemical fumes.

“Everything burns faster, hotter and more toxic,” said Firefighter Ron Guinazzo of Truck Co. 2.

Meanwhile, firefighters are wearing more and heavier protective gear. They can venture deeper into a fire, but also deeper into trouble. “You really need to be aware of your surroundings,” Guinazzo said.

More than 400 people — firefighters, paramedics, retirees, family and friends — took part in the mass. It included a color guard, the department’s bagpipe and drums corps and a reading of the names of members who have died, most of them retired or on disability.

A Sunday apartment fire in Edgewater left a dolorous backdrop for the mass held at Holy Family Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt. That fire’s vital statistics: Nearly 30 people rescued and 15 injured ­— including six firefighters.

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