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Published: Saturday, 6/11/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

FIREFIGHTERS HOLD ANNUAL MEMORIAL

Bell rings in honor of 4 killed battling 1961 blaze on Trail

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Assistant Fire Chief Luis Santiago, left, and Deputy Chief Brian Byrd bow their heads during the Toledo Fire Department’s annual memorial service for fallen comrades at Chub DeWolfe Park downtown. Assistant Fire Chief Luis Santiago, left, and Deputy Chief Brian Byrd bow their heads during the Toledo Fire Department’s annual memorial service for fallen comrades at Chub DeWolfe Park downtown.
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Robert Harrison, William Genson, Glenn Carter, and Ewald Bode — four Toledo firefighters fatally injured 50 years ago during the Anthony Wayne Trail explosion and whose deaths eventually led to the city’s annual firefighter memorial service.

The Toledo fire bell sounded Friday in their honor.

Toledo police Sgt. Jeff Bechtel, the son of Mr. Carter, fought back tears looking at his mother during the Toledo Fire Department’s memorial service for fallen comrades at Chub DeWolfe Park, across from the No. 1 fire station downtown.

“Same as with being a police officer, the fire service is a calling,” Sergeant Bechtel said after the somber service that included a reading of the names of all Toledo firefighters killed in the line of duty, six who died in World War II, and seven retirees who died the past year.

“The day my father died was the same day my sister was born, in the same hospital, the old Maumee Valley Hospital, just a few floors apart,” Sergeant Bechtel said.

PHOTO GALLERY: See more pictures from the memorial service.

Family members of those killed and injured 50 years ago gather downtown on the anniversary of the fire every year, along with the city’s current firefighters, retirees, and other people.

These old firehouse chairs and pieces of equipment were on display during the memorial service Friday. These old firehouse chairs and pieces of equipment were on display during the memorial service Friday.
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A tank truck carrying 8,000 gallons of gasoline overturned June 10, 1961, on the Anthony Wayne Trail and sparked one of the worst fires in Toledo history. According to a Blade article from June 11, 1961, the truck was speeding — going about 35 mph, based on skid marks on the road, police had said. The area was zoned for 25 mph. The driver’s speed caused the truck to overturn and crash. The resulting explosion also severely burned several others.

The four firefighters fatally injured in the blast died days or weeks later.

Retired Toledo Fire Chief William Neeb choked up Friday while reading the names of the men killed that day and those who were injured.

“It hardly seems possible it has been 50 years since the Trail,” he said.

Mr. Neeb, who was assigned to the department’s #6 heavy squad, arrived on the scene just after the blast.

“Within moments, we were on the scene I can only describe as quite chaos,” he said.

Mr. Neeb said only 17 of the men who responded to the fire are alive, and some of them were badly burned.

Toledo Fire Chief Mike Wolever, who on Thursday announced his retirement effective July 1 after 33 years on the job, said the “brothers and sisters” who had died while in the line of duty deserved the best recognition possible.

“I have done this for a few years now, and it never gets any easier,” Chief Wolever told the crowd of about 100 people.

Toledo firefighter Eric Ellis rings the fire bell for firefighters who were killed in the line of duty. They deserve the best recognition possible, said Chief Mike Wolever. Toledo firefighter Eric Ellis rings the fire bell for firefighters who were killed in the line of duty. They deserve the best recognition possible, said Chief Mike Wolever.
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Mayor Mike Bell, a former Toledo firefighter and fire chief, pointed out that each of the firefighters who died 50 years ago and throughout the city’s history all started their shifts expecting to go home at the end.

“Not all did, and firefighters are prepared for that,” Mr. Bell said.

Yesterday was a dreary, wet day, and a strong breeze kept an American flag flowing between two raised aerial truck ladders from which it was hung.

“I think the rain is a little appropriate,” the mayor said.

Mr. Bell also used yesterday to thank Chief Wolever for his more than three decades of service.

“I want to wish Mike Wolever total success in his retirement,” the mayor said. “Any fire chief, any firefighter who has been in this service, knows it is not easy leaving family.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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