SANDUSKY — Toledo firefighter Private James ‘Jamie’ Dickman often joked with his family that when he died, he wanted toothbrushes passed out at his funeral.
“He said if he had a toothbrush for everyone there, they would think of him every day,” said his sister-in-law Julie Torrence during funeral services for the fallen firefighter Friday.
It wasn’t so much a premonition as it was “just Jamie” to be ready with a joke, a prank, or funny line that set him apart, family and friends said. And so, to honor the man they called both funny and serious, a man with a big heart who never met a stranger, funeral attendees picked up toothbrushes out of baskets on the way out of The Chapel on Galloway Road near Sandusky.
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More than 700 people packed the chapel to say good-bye, about half of them firefighters from all over the region, including Toledo, Perkins Township, Oregon, Washington Township, Bellevue, Bay View, Sandusky, and Clyde.
“He lived every day to learn as much as he could to improve our profession and serve the community the best he could,” Keith Wohlever, Perkins Township fire chief, said. “The best way to honor him now is to never be complacent … ”
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Private Dickman, 31, a fairly new member of the Toledo Fire Department, and Private Stephen Machcinski, 42, lost their lives Sunday battling an apartment fire on Magnolia Street in Toledo. Private services for Private Machcinski are set for 10 a.m. today. During Private Dickman’s funeral services in Erie County, the owner of the apartment building, Ray Abou-Arab, 61, of Oregon was arrested in Lucas County and charged with their deaths.
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins said it was bittersweet giving a eulogy during Private Dickman’s service, knowing an arrest was imminent. While the family and procession of firefighters took Private Dickman’s body to Oakland Cemetery in Sandusky for burial, the mayor waited at the chapel to tell the family about the break in the case.
“Sunday night, we found out that a son, a husband, a brother died in a fire. We just went through his service and now we have to relay to the family that [the fire call] was in response to an alleged criminal act,” Mayor Collins said.
For the brotherhood of firefighters, Friday was a day of grieving that started with a 65-mile procession to transport Private Dickman’s body from Toledo to Sandusky. Along State Rt. 2, firefighters, police officers, and other emergency personnel lined the overpasses, flying flags, and saluting from above as the procession passed.
The procession route, which started at Walker Funeral Home in Toledo, picked up dozens of people as it passed Franklin Park Mall.
Along the road, men and women waited and watched silently. One woman held her hand over her heart as the cars passed. A man saluted the dozens of vehicles as they drove down West Sylvania Avenue.
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A show of gratitude
Sister Geraldine Nowak of the Sisters of St. Francis in Sylvania was there to show “sympathy, respect, and gratitude,” she said.
Pattie Hall of Adrian, who works in Toledo, said she wanted to show her gratitude and respect for the fallen firefighters. She said she used to work at Lucas County 911 and “feels a little kinship with them.”
“It’s a brotherhood and we have to support our brothers,” said Steve Busby, a firefighter with the Catawba Island Volunteer Fire Department, as he stepped off the overpass at the State Rt. 53 exit near Portage Township. “It’s pretty unreal to see that every overpass from here to Toledo had fire trucks on it.”
In Sandusky, business owners and residents lined U.S. 250 to pay their respects.
“It’s the same camaraderie we had in the [U.S. military] service,” said Tony Corte, owner of Pain & Pleasure Tattoo, who stepped out of his business to watch the procession. “It could have been you. It hits close to home.”
Toledo Fire Lieutenants Ron Kay and Brian Henry, and Privates Mike Lester and John Martin came to pay last respects to Private Dickman.
The men from Station 7 in Toledo said they were humbled by the outpouring of support both locally and from firefighters all over the country and Canada. “We had breakfast this morning with two gentlemen from London, Ont. We got to sit and share,” Lieutenant Kay said. “[Firefighters] have traveled for hours to be here, and when I go to thank them, they don’t say a word.
“They don’t have to — that’s what the brotherhood’s all about.”
Before the funeral service at the chapel started, giant video screens portrayed the life of a man proud to be a firefighter, standing in front of a firetruck in full gear; a man who loved his family, holding his 3-year-old daughter, Paige, and his 1-month-old son, Grant; a man who seemed in his element playing guitar with his worship team at the chapel, and a boy who appeared to have had his mischievous smile already at a young age.
The chapel fell silent as the family was escorted in.
“We wish we could wake up and realize it was all a dream,” Head Pastor Bill Schroeder said. “Then we realize that this is for real and life has changed. But we are where we need to be — with other people, breathing, processing, comforting each other.”
Mayor Collins and Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago spoke at the funeral, which was followed by bagpipers from local fire departments playing “Amazing Grace,” and a salute by the more than 150 firefighters who attended.
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‘Part of our family’
“He might be gone, he might have left us, but he is still part of our family, and so are you,” Chief Santiago told the family, adding that during a graduation ceremony Feb. 21 for Private Dickman’s class, he would be honored with an empty chair and that his badge, No. 50, would be retired.
Some firefighters cried as they told stories about their friend and co-worker. “He was a good man, one of the best. As a paramedic, there was none better,” said Perkins Township Fire Lt. Edward Hastings, who worked with him his entire career with Perkins Township. “I watched him and his crew save numerous people from death. They brought them back.”
The Last Alarm service Thursday night at the SeaGate Convention Centre and Friday’s service were both perfect ways to honor Private Dickman’s memory, childhood friend Curt Miller of Toledo said.
“It was a very moving way to watch Jamie go out. Jamie would not have had it any other way,” he said.
Staff Writer Taylor Dungjen contributed to this report.
Contact Roberta Gedert at: email@example.com or 419-724-6081.