JAMES CITY COUNTY — Most Christmas trees represent the joy and happiness of the season.
However, those entering the James City County (JCC) Emergency Communications Center this holiday season saw a Christmas tree with an even more moving message.
Each year, the JCC Emergency Communications Center displays a Christmas tree honoring hundreds of public safety workers across the United States who lost their lives during that year.
The “Honor Tree” was created during the 2017 Christmas season by newly-trained Emergency Communications Officer (ECO) Allison LaRose, who wanted a way to honor the fallen men, women and K9 units in the U.S. each year.
LaRose donated a Christmas tree and, with the help of her shift, decorated it with ornaments with the titles, names and end of watch (EOW) date for each individual that died that year as found on the Officer Down Memorial Page and the U.S Fire Administration on FEMA’s website, according to Emergency Communications Supervisor Daniela Fujimoto.
The color-coded ornaments represent the different public service divisions; blue for police units, red for firefighters and EMS personnel, and silver for K9 units.
Well-received, the Honor Tree has become a Christmas tradition at the JCC Emergency Communications Center and is updated as needed.
“There’s never been a year since we’ve started it that it’s not been full, unfortunately,” Director of JCC Emergency Communications Rebecca Williams said.
However, this year’s tree looked a little different from previous years. Due to COVID-19, there was an increased number of deaths in 2021. As a result, there was not enough room on the tree for all of the ornaments.
Now, two separate lists sit on a pedestal next to the tree contain the names of the public safety workers who lost their lives due to COVID-19.
“It’s just really overwhelming how many names are on it,” Williams said.
Williams said that the tree will stay up into January before it is taken down. The Center hopes that one day the tree will have no ornaments.