Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago embraces relatives of James Dickman, who, along with firefighter Stephen Machcinski, died while searching for victims during a building blaze at Magnolia and Huron streets on Jan. 26. Chief Santiago laid the wreath during the Toledo Fire Department’s annual memorial service. Tuesday’s remembrance was at Chub DeWolfe Park in downtown Toledo.
Sharon Machcinski, mother of fallen firefighter Stephen Machcinski, looks at the wreath placed for her son during the Toledo Fire Department's annual memorial service held at Chub DeWolfe Park in Toledo.
It was Jackie and Kevin Gordon’s 31st wedding anniversary Tuesday. But the couple and their daughter, Kendra, had another reason to celebrate.
For the most part, Lieutenant Gordon sat through the Toledo Fire and Rescue Department’s annual Award and Recognition Ceremony at Government Center listening with solemn dignity.
His mouth was firm and he held his shoulders back, looking straight ahead as he was awarded the Life Saving Award, which he shares with Lieutenant Craig Ellis. The two were cited for helping a person in cardiac arrest while they were off-duty.
PHOTO GALLERY: Toledo Fire Memorial
Then he glanced to the side, where his family was seated, and the right half of his mouth curled unstoppably into a smile.
“He doesn’t like to be in the spotlight,” Kendra said. “But I love to see him getting the proper thanks for all he’s done.”
This year, the fire department’s award committee selected 19 firefighters as award recipients. Five firefighters received a “Letter from the Chief” for removing an unconscious woman from a structure fire, and “Life Saving Awards” and “Ribbons of Professional Commendation” were awarded to 12 firefighters who had responded to bystanders in need while off-duty and allowed for the revival and hospital transfer of people trapped by flames.
Barb Aldrich presents firefighter Kevin Gordon, right, the Life Saving Award as he happily thanks her for it during an awards ceremony to recognize the accomplishments of city firefighters. Craig Ellis, center, also received the Life Saving Award.
To the left of the podium was a table laid with a white cloth, on which a salt shaker, lemon juice, a red rose, and two upside-down glasses had been placed. Called the “empty table,” a tradition begun in the United States military and adopted by the fire service, the setting had been laid to commemorate the bravery of the two firefighters about to receive the department’s highest honor, the “Medal of Valor.” The two chairs beside the table were unoccupied and would remain so, symbolic of how the two were no longer present to fill them.
A throng of police officers and firefighters look on during the annual memorial service in Chub DeWolf Park.
The families of those firefighters — Private Stephen Machcinski and Private James Dickman, who died Jan. 26 while searching for occupants in an apartment fire — filled up the front two rows. At the noon memorial service, both families and widow Ethel Bondy received memorial wreaths, and the name of each departed member was engraved on the plaque by the fire department headquarters.
In his remarks at the service, Luis Santiago, chief of the Toledo Fire and Rescue Department, said the fire that claimed the lives of Mr. Dickman and Mr. Machcinski was “another June 10.” On that date in 1961, a devastating gas explosion on the Anthony Wayne Trail caused the deaths of four firefighters. Chief Santiago, Mayor D. Michael Collins, and other officials spoke of the need to remember their department’s heroism and accord their brothers and sisters their due honor.
After the roll call of firefighters who had died over the years came the sound of three stark bells — the departed firefighters’ “last alarm,” traditionally rung at firefighters’ services to represent the bells that once alerted firefighters to duty and signaled the completion of a job.
“It helps us to heal and move on,” said Battallion Chief John Kaminski, “But never forget.”
Contact Jennifer Gersten at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.