The final alarm rang tonight for two of Toledo's bravest killed in the line of duty four days ago.
"May God rest their souls. We'll take it from here brothers," a fire dispatcher announced during a service in honor of Pvts. James Dickman and Stephen Machcinski — the two firefighters killed Sunday while searching for potentially trapped residents in a devastating North Toledo building fire.
More than 5,000 people packed the SeaGate Centre tonight for a two-hour funeral service in honor of the firefighters.
Ret. Toledo Assistant Fire Chief Robert Schwantzl read both men's records before a bell was rung three times for each — a tradition for funerals of firefighters.
Tears filled the eyes of veteran firefighters and civilians alike as the two Toledo firefighters were eulogized repeatedly and as their families were presented with medals in honor of their sacrifices.
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The families of Privates Dickman and Machcinski — sitting before their flag-covered caskets — accepted the International Association of Firefighters medal of honor.
Harold Schaitberger, president of the international union, promised their deaths would not be forgotten.
"When all the news turns to the next story, we will be here for you in the months and years to come," Mr. Schaitberger said.
He said most people don't understand the culture and bond of firefighters, although it could be seen today at the somber ceremony.
To the two fallen firefighters - who died from injuries suffered while searching a burning apartment building for possible victims, Mr. Schaitberger said: "You have answered the final alarm. You have served the city well ... may you rest in peace."
Family members of the two men clutched each others' hands as they entered the service and throughout the program.
Toledo Fire Battalion Chief Sally Glombowski, who was selected as a representative of the Dickman family, said the young firefighter loved his family fiercely and cared about people most of all.
Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago said he was struck how the Dickman and Machcinski families were concerned about the fire department's well-being despite their own overwhelming grief and suffering.
"You are two very, very solid families and that's why James and Stephen were such good fits for our department," the chief said.
"Stephen and Jamie may be gone, they have left, but they will always be part of our family," he said.
Chief Santiago acknowledged the scores of firefighters from across the nation and Canada who traveled to Toledo for the service.
The somber ceremony was marked with pictures of the two fallen firefighters displayed while the St. Francis choir sang "On Eagles Wings."
"There are no words that can express the sadness in our hearts," Toledo Battalion Chief John Kaminski said before the thousands gathered.
"Although this is a memorial, it is also a celebration of their life and service," Chief Kaminski said.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) — one of several public officials addressing the families and people attending — said he struggled with what to say to honor the two firefighters.
"While we civilians rush away from danger, firefighters rush in toward danger," Senator Brown said.
The senator lauded the two men — recalling how Private Dickman's two dreams were to marry his wife Jamie and also to become a Toledo firefighter.
After his remarks, Senator Brown and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) presented American flags to the Machcinski and Dickman families. Both flags were flown above the U.S Capitol Sunday.
Mayor D. Michael Collins said the city would always hold the Dickman and Machcinski families in their prayers and acknowledged that wounds left by their deaths would never fully heal.
"The duty of a police officer is to protect. The duty of a firefighter is to rescue," Mayor Collins said."As our community mourns the loss of these fine two professionals they deserve, rightfully so, the title of hero," the mayor said.
"This [service] confirms what we have known all along about the brotherhood of firefighters and what we have learned about the people of Toledo - that they support the firefighters of Local 92," said Doug Stern, a spokesman for the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters.
The two-hour service for Private Machcinski, 42, and Private Dickman, 31, started with the St. Francis de Sales High School Men's Chorus performing "The Singing Blue," followed a procession of the International Association of Fire Fighters' Massed Pipes and Drums. More than a hundred bagpipers and drummers opened the ceremony - marching in playing through the posting of the colors.
Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Tracy Smith was among 60 from that department who came to Toledo today for the service.
"There is an outpouring of support for the department that's affected when something like this happens," Chief Smith said. "It hits close to home for us since it is Ohio and we are all a tight-knit group."
Sam Hernandez, of East Toledo, stood silently staring at the caskets containing the bodies of the two fallen firefighters.
"I just had to come to pay my respects even though I am not a firefighter or no one in my family is a firefighter, but I know if my house is one fire or I have a heart attack, they will be there to save me."
Dan Desmond, vice president of the local firefighters union, sang the national anthem with his son Devon and the pipes and drums performed "Amazing Grace."
Tom Ryan, president of the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, echoed the same sentiment as many of the scores of other firefighters gathered to pay tribute to Privates Dickman and Machcinski.
"We are all family and when we lose one it is felt deeply by all of us," Mr. Ryan said. "This is outstanding. We lost five of our own in recent years and we are just repaying by being here."
Andrew Majer, a machinist from North Toledo near the fire that cost Privates Dickman and Machcinski their lives, said he wanted to witness the tribute to the two men.
"I didn't know them but this is an impressive show of their fraternity," Mr. Majer said.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6171.