Granddaughter Carla Stichler, 66, left, daughter Cleo Minke, 79, center left, daughter-in-law Shirley Spearer, 86, center right, and son Kenneth Sperber, 86, right, were joined by family and friends Tuesday.
Being a firefighter meant everything to Ueckert Sperber, so his granddaughter, Carla Stichler, knew how important it was to donate his helmet to the Toledo Firefighter’s Museum.
“It means a lot to me because I know my grandfather would be very pleased to see it home,” Mrs. Stichler, 66, said.
Mr. Sperber was one of the firefighters injured in the 1961 Anthony Wayne Trail fire that claimed the lives of four firefighters, and his helmet, scuffed and blackened, has become iconic to the fire department thanks to a Blade photograph of it among the wreckage of the Standard Oil tanker truck that crashed near Vinton Street, sending 7,900 gallons of oil up in flames.
“Ueckert became very famous because they took that picture,” Toledo Firefighter’s Museum President Robert Schwanzel said. Mr. Sperber’s initials — U.F.S. — are visible on the helmet’s brim in the picture.
The Toledo Fire Department has displayed the photograph for years and having the original helmet completes the presentation, department spokesman Lt. Matt Hertzfeld said.
This photo of Ueckert Sperber’s helmet during the Trail fire in 1961 has become iconic to the fire department.
“That’s an iconic photograph. To have one element in our collection means a lot,” he said.
The trail fire, on June 10, 1961, was the greatest loss of firefighter lives caused by a single incident in the history of the department. Firefighters Robert Harrison, Glenn Carter, William Genson, and Deputy Chief Ewald Bode died from burns received in the fire, which injured 71 people, including Mr. Sperber.
“That’s such an integral part of our history, that trail fire,” Mr. Schwanzel said.
The fire’s history is important to Mr. Sperber’s family as well, all of whom have heard stories about it since they were young. In fact, Mr. Sperber worked at Station 5 at Broadway and Logan Street, the same station as Mr. Harrison and Mr. Carter, and he suffered burns while trying to help other men who were already on fire, including “Uncle Bob” Harrison, Ms. Stichler said.
The family donated many of Mr. Sperber’s personal items to the museum, including his hat and dress uniform, a speaking trumpet, badges, and newspaper clippings related to the fire. But the helmet holds a special place in its collection.
A relative of Toledo Firefighter Ueckert Sperber points out his picture in a news clipping.
“All the kids have taken it to school to show for show-and-tell,” Mr. Sperber’s daughter, Cleo Minke, 79, said. “It’s part of the whole history of the family.”
Mr. Sperber, who was 62 at the time of the fire, had to retire afterward because of his burns, but he continued to be a part of the firefighting family, volunteering to cook food for them every weekend. He died in 1987.
The department, in turn, recognizes the importance of preserving its history, both for those who were a part of it and for generations to come.
“Those donations, they don’t only sustain the museum, they sustain the memory of those guys that died,” Lt. Hertzfeld said.