BUCHANAN, Va. – Red and blue star-shaped ornaments cover Bill Price’s dining room table. The stars bear the names of 208 fallen heroes written on them - police, fire and K9 - who died in the line of duty in 2019.
“Once Halloween is over, that’s when we go, ‘OK, time to start ordering stars and get painting and start getting names together,’” Price said.
Price is a volunteer firefighter with the Buchanan Volunteer Fire Department. This year, he and his family will decorate a Christmas tree with these stars to sit outside the station over the holidays. Red stars are for firefighters and blue are for law enforcement.
“On the front is their name, the end of watch - the date they died," Price said. "And then on the back is the department they were with.”
Price started the tradition four years ago when he lived near Norfolk, after his father, who was a retired police officer, passed away.
“The first year you’ve lost somebody is the hardest,” Price said.
He wanted to make it a little easier for other families going through the same thing.
“It may be their first Christmas [without their loved one]. It may have an empty place at the table this year, but they’re not forgotten,” Price said.
He said the toughest part is that the stars keep piling up.
“When you think you’re done, you go to bed and you wake up the next morning and there’s another police officer who’s been shot or killed in the line of duty, a car accident, you know, responding to a call," Price said. "Or a firefighter who was supposed to take his family to Disneyland you know, and he was killed in a fire the night before.”
This year’s tree will be a little harder to decorate because Price’s friend and former coworker died over the summer.
“His name is Lt. John Kennedy," Price said. “July 20 he died from a cardiac arrest.”
This Sunday, Price, his family and the community will hang the stars and light the tree together to shine a spotlight on their sacrifices.
“I got you buddy. I’ll get you on there,” Price said. "I’m going to make sure he’s on the front for me this year.”
The tree lighting ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. on Sunday outside the Buchanan Volunteer Fire Department. The tree will stay lit through January 1.