Firefighters bow their heads as a prayer is said in honor of those who have died in the line of duty.
As the fire bell rang at midday Monday at Toledo Fire Department headquarters, an assembly of firefighters bowed their heads before four vacant firehouse chairs.
The chairs, each paired with a helmet and boots, stood in remembrance of Robert Harrison, William Genson, Glenn Carter, and Ewald Bode, four Toledo firefighters who died in the line of duty 52 years ago in one of the worst fires in city history.
When a tank truck hauling 7,900 gallons of gasoline overturned on the Anthony Wayne Trail on the morning of June 10, 1961, and burst into flames, 57 firefighters responded to the scene. Many suffered severe injuries as they tried to douse the fire. Mr. Harrison, Mr. Genson, Mr. Carter, and Mr. Bode died days or weeks later.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to see more from the memorial
On the 52nd anniversary of “the Trail fire,” current and retired firefighters, as well as city officials and family members of those injured or killed, gathered in the apparatus bays of the No. 1 fire station downtown for the department’s annual memorial service honoring the sacrifices of fallen comrades.
“Today is our own Memorial Day,” said Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago, speaking to a crowd of about 100 people, including dozens of department veterans. “These men and women are a big part of the evolution of our department: We need to continue that tradition.”
Roy Hollenbacher, the 1st District vice president of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters, delivered the service’s keynote address, which included a recital of the names of all Toledo firefighters killed in the line of duty, six who died in World War II, and 17 retirees who passed away in the last 12 months.
“It would be easy not to be here today,” Mr. Hollenbacher said, encouraging the crowd to pass the fire department’s traditions and legacy on to future generations. “Thank you for remembering those who have given the ultimate sacrifice ... and remind people to remember,” he said.
Toledo resident Emily Nalodka, center, walks with her son James after placing a wreath in honor of her husband, Leo Nalodka, a Toledo firefighter who died while on duty in 1964. He was 39.
Among those honoring city firefighters past and present was Mayor Mike Bell, who shared Mr. Hollenbacher’s commitment to preserving the memory of “those who were willing to put their lives on the line” for Toledo’s safety.
“Our city is safer because of these people in uniform,” said Mr. Bell, a former Toledo firefighter and fire chief. “It’s extremely important that we tell you, ‘Thank you.’ ”
Even as modern equipment and extended training provide increased safety for today’s firefighters, a tragedy such as the Trail inferno could occur again, retired firefighter John Repp said.
Mr. Repp, now the curator of the Toledo Firefighters’ Museum, said the fire department is researching those firefighters who died prematurely from natural causes while on the ground.
Leo Nalodka was one of them: A fireman for 15 years, he died of heart attack while on duty on April 26, 1964. He was only 39. As Monday’s service drew to a close, Mr. Nalodka’s widow, Emily, laid a wreath between the four empty chairs to honor her husband’s memory.
“He would have been really proud. He truly loved his job,” Mrs. Nalodka said. “It was very nice of the fire department to give him this recognition. My [five] children thought so too.”
Mr. Nalodka’s name will be added to the 46 names of deceased firefighters inscribed on the Last Alarm Memorial in Chub DeWolfe Park, across Huron Street from the fire department’s headquarters.
Contact Lorenzo Ligato at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091.