The pews of Historic Church of St. Patrick filled tonight with hundreds of Toledo's firefighters, their families, and friends as they started the painful process of saying goodbye to two of their own.
Pvts. James Dickman and Stephen Machcinski – who were killed Sunday in an apartment fire - were memorialized in a mass at the church, which is considered the firefighters' church.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view photos from the mass.
“This is quite a bit significant,” said Dave Meegan, a retired Toledo firefighters who volunteers at the church. “This is the healing process for us all. This is the parish's way of saying thank you,” said Mr. Meegan, who personally knew Private Machcinski and worked with him during his rookie year.
“Steve was a great guy,” Mr. Meegan said. “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 Rev. Christopher Vasko, pastor at the church, said he selected readings focused on firefighters' “ministry.”
“The Gospel I selected has to do with the questions we ask at this time, which includes 'is God real?'” Father Vasko said.
The near-downtown church has significant meaning for Toledo's bravest. The building was saved from destruction by the Toledo Fire Department in 1980 when lightning stuck the steeple.
“There would be no tower if it wasn't for them,” Father Vasko said.
An altar shrine inside the church is dedicated to St. Florian, the patron saint of firefighters, and to all firefighters everywhere.
Private Ric Backus, who started on the department 15 years ago in the same class as Private Machcinski, said everyone on the department has been dealing with the loss in different ways.
“They were our brothers. What else can you say?” Private Backus said.
The parish holds mass at 5:30 p.m. every Wednesday but the service this week is focused on Privates Dickman and Machcinski.
A second mass will be held at the church at 10 a.m. Sunday.