Nearly 1,000 local and retired firefighters and their families gather for Mass at the Historic Church of St. Patrick in honor of Toledo firefighters Stephen Machcinski and James Dickman, who died on duty Sunday.
Retired Toledo firefighter Cornel Edwards tucked his helmet tightly under his arm, paused, and touched the number 3 marked on the side of the scuffed head gear.
Retired firefighter Cornel Edwards, who worked with Steven Machcinski at Station No. 3, said he attended the Mass to show support. ‘We’re all brothers.’
“We’re all brothers,” Mr. Edwards said Wednesday after a Mass in honor of two Toledo firefighters killed Sunday in a North Toledo apartment-house fire.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view photos from the mass.
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Nearly 1,000 people — mostly active-duty and retired firefighters and their relatives from Toledo and surrounding communities — packed the pews of the Historic Church of St. Patrick near downtown to start the painful process of saying good-bye to two of their own.
Private James Dickman, 31, and Private Stephen Machcinski, 42, were memorialized during the service at St. Patrick’s, which is considered by many the firefighters’ church. The bodies were not in the church on Wednesday.
Both men were assigned to Engine 3. An altar shrine inside the church is dedicated to St. Florian, the patron saint of firefighters, and to all firefighters everywhere. Two firefighters’ gear, helmets, and boots stood before the shrine — the helmets marked “3.”
Firefighters participate in the Mass. The Historic Church of St. Patrick is considered the firemen’s church; the Toledo Fire Department saved the church when lightning hit the steeple in 1980.
“I have been gone all these years, but I am here to support everyone here,” said Mr. Edwards, who worked with Mr. Machcinski at Station No. 3 in North Toledo.
“We have gathered together to grieve, cry,” Msgr. Christopher Vasko, the church’s pastor, said at the opening of the Mass.
Private Ric Backus, who joined the department 15 years ago in the same class as Private Machcinski, said everyone on the department has dealt with the loss differently while, at the same time, still protecting the city.
“They were our brothers. What else can you say?” Mr. Backus said.
Msgr. Vasko said he selected readings that focused on firefighters’ “ministry.”
“I was thinking about those two valiant guys who gave up their lives Sunday afternoon for people they probably didn’t know — people living in an old apartment house — and yet they were willing to bravely go in there, lead people out, fight that fire,” Msgr. Vasko said during his homily.
“When we think of the risks that any first-responder takes, that’s a call from God,” he said. “We may not recognize it, we may not feel it, we may not sense it.”
Firefighters have their own ministry, Msgr. Christopher Vasko told those gathered for Mass. ‘When we think of the risks that any first-responder takes, that’s a call from God,’ he said.
The church has significant meaning for Toledo’s bravest. St. Patrick’s was saved from destruction by the Toledo Fire Department in 1980 when lightning stuck its steeple.
“There would be no tower if it wasn’t for them,” Msgr. Vasko said.
Dave Meegan, a retired Toledo firefighter who volunteers at the church, said the Mass was deeply significant for the firefighters mourning their co-workers’ deaths.
“This is the healing process for us all. This is the parish’s way of saying thank you,” said Mr. Meegan, who knew Mr. Machcinski and worked with him during his rookie year in 1998. “Steve was a great guy. All rookies get a nickname and when he was a rookie at Engine 17, there was already a Steve there, so he became ‘Little Steve.’ ”
The parish celebrates Mass at 5:30 p.m. every Wednesday, but the service this week focused on Mr. Machcinski and Mr. Dickman, and was the first organized and public tribute to them. Church officials said they did not believe any relatives of the two firefighters attended the Mass.
The traditional playing of bagpipes punctuated the Mass. The crowd stood frozen, many with tears in their eyes, as Matt Hart, Washington Township’s fire chief, performed “Amazing Grace.”
“This has taken a toll on everyone. It doesn’t matter what [department] name is on your sleeve,” Chief Hart said.
Perrysburg Fire Lt. Tom Granata said the Mass was a comfort to the grieving.
“I think it’s a big thing to support those who have to go back to work after losing their brothers,” Lieutenant Granata said.
Deacon Tom Carone concluded the Mass with a prayer recited before the shrine of St. Florian.
“Father God, no fireman or first-responder ever walks alone, but makes his way with and supported by his entire class,” Mr. Carone said. “When any of that class is taken from our midst, especially while protecting the lives and property of others, the class feels a heavy burden and a grave sense of loss. Strengthen the firemen’s classes of 1998 and 2013 with your compassion.”
Thousands of firefighters from across the nation are expected to be in Toledo today for a Last Alarm funeral service at the SeaGate Convention Centre.