Two members of the Toledo Fire Department stood perfectly still, guarding the closed, flag-draped casket between them as they kept vigil over their fallen brother today.
A set of turnout gear rested below a large photo of Private James A. “Jamie” Dickman, 31, who was killed in the line of duty Sunday afternoon when he became trapped inside a burning two-story apartment building in North Toledo. He and his fellow firefighter, Private Stephen Machcinski, 42, were pulled from the burning rubble and rushed to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, where they both were pronounced dead. Autopsies revealed the two died of burns and carbon-monoxide exposure.
A public viewing for Mr. Dickman started at 11 a.m. and continues until 5 p.m. today at Cedar Creek Church, 29129 Lime City Rd., Perrysburg Township. From there, Mr. Dickman's body and his family will be escorted to the SeaGate Convention Centre for a Last Alarm public funeral service that starts at 7 p.m.
Mr. Machcinski's body and his family will also be at the service.
With red ribbons pinned to their chests, Toledo firefighters milled somberly inside the church today. Hugs and handshakes were commonplace as they comforted each other.
“You talk about this brotherhood and sisterhood of firefighters. You go through the academy and they talk about it. It's there, but now is when you really know what it means,” said Graham Johnson, a firefighter from Station 9 who was in Mr. Dickman's academy class.
Mr. Johnson said the loss of two of their own has hit the department hard.
“It's unreal. It's still setting in,” he said. “Everyone is having a hard time.”
But the firefighters have each other to lean on. They are all sharing in the same loss.
“We need each other right now,” Battalion Chief Karen Marquardt said. “To be able to just look at someone and not have to say a word and they get it, I could only have that with my fire family.”
Chief Marquardt, who is part of the department's administrative staff, was on the panel that interviewed Mr. Dickman before he came the Toledo.
“You could tell by his answers that he wanted this job so bad,” she said. “If he could, he would have gotten down on his knees. … When he left that interview, you knew how much this meant to him. He really wanted to go to more fires and help more people. That was evident in his interviews.”
Mr. Johnson said Mr. Dickman's passion for the dangerous job shined during the time they knew each other in the academy.
“You could tell that this is what he was meant to do,” Mr. Johnson said. “He absolutely loved being a firefighter and he was so excited about this.”
Chief Marquardt said Mr. Machcinski, whose services are private at the request of his family, was well-loved by all who knew him.
“There wasn't anyone who didn't like Steve,” she said. “He was a young, good old boy. … He came and he worked really, really hard.”
A massive outpouring of support for the department from the Toledo community and from across the country has helped the department both cope with the loss and honor the two men. Firefighters from the surrounding area as well as from places like Los Angeles and Pittsburgh planned to be at Mr. Dickman's visitation today.
“I've never seen anything like this,” Chief Marquardt said. “The support we've gotten is incredible.”
Maumee resident Kelly Bradfield attended the visitation to honor both the two Toledo firefighters and her mother, Georgia Bailey, who was the first female volunteer firefighter in Northwood.
“People are too busy in their own lives to realize that these people put their lives on the line every minute,” she said. “Even when they're off duty, they're on duty. It's the life they've chosen and it's the passion they have within them. They aren't honored enough.”
Ms. Bradfield said she is planning to make some kind of additional contribution, perhaps by creating a painting, in memory of Mr. Machcinski and Mr. Dickman.
Jeffrey Romstadt, president of Local 92, said the union is expecting about 5,000 firefighters to attend tonight's Last Alarm service that starts at 7 p.m. Arranging the event has been the result of cooperation with the department, the city, the union, as well as state and national firefighters' associations.
“We're very task-oriented in the fire service,.” Mr. Romstadt said. “Things are getting accomplished. People are putting their noses to the grindstone and getting the job done. We could not handle this alone.”
Contact Alexandra Mester at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @AlexMesterBlade.