They know the danger of the job. They know it may come with the ultimate price of their own life. Still, the death of Hamilton firefighter Patrick Wolterman on Monday in the line of duty has been a sobering reminder to the crew at Fire Station 25.
“We train all the time and you spend your whole career practicing and training and ‘what if-ing’ and talking about these scenarios,” Hamilton Fire Lt. Dave Holzberger said. “That’s the risk of the job unfortunately. We all know them and we all hope that we don’t have to face them. It’s a sobering reality when you do.”
Wolterman joined the Hamilton Fire Department on April 25, after serving with the Fairfield Twp. and Colerain Twp. fire departments. But the 28-year-old was not the typical rookie firefighter, according to Holzberger and fellow Hamilton firefighter Jason Callihan.
“You treat rookies a little different, but with Pat you couldn’t do that,” Callihan said. “His demeanor and the way he acted, you couldn’t help but just let him in. He fit just right in to the core of the group.”
“We have a thing here — newest guy eats last, newer guy has the brunt of most of the work … Pat, he would set his alarm a little bit early so he could beat me to the dishwasher. Little things like that made him a special guy,” Callihan said.
“He came in like he’d been here for 10 years,” Holzberger said.
A fire house crew engages in a “fair share of ribbing” with each other, he said, and Wolterman has his own unique humor.
“He was like a straight man in a comedy duo,” Holzberger said. “We instantly liked him. You can’t say enough about a guy like that.”
When a massive fire broke out in October at the former Beckett Paper Mill site, however, it was the rookie who came through, Callihan said.
Callihan and Wolterman were lifted high in the bucket of a fire truck to combat the blaze. Callihan had never thrown water from such a position before. He looked back at Wolterman, thinking he had experience in that situation, only to find out that he did not.
Wolterman remained calm, Callihan said, and that had a great effect on him and they both were able to finish the job safely.
“He was a phenomenal guy,” Callihan said.
Neither Callihan nor Holzberger were on duty the night that Wolterman lost his life in the Prater Avenue fire. But they vividly remember finding out that a fellow firefighter had died.
“I was just devastated and just felt intense sorrow,” Holzberger said. “I ached for his family, ached for my guys, ached for the whole Hamilton fire department community. I knew that the citizens of our city had lost a great asset they would have had for the next 25 years. It was just God awful … God awful.”
Callihan was at home when he received a call to inform him of Wolterman’s death.
“When I got the call, I couldn’t believe it. I even argued with the guy who called me — because it couldn’t be true,” Callihan said. “I thought about his family, his wife and his parents and everybody he interacted with — I knew he was a family man.”
Holzberger and Callihan both said a loss in the ranks while in the line of duty only makes those that serve stronger. But they will never forget what the loss of life feels like.
“We love Pat, and he was one of us and even though he was with us only a short time, I lost a brother,” Holzberger said. “There is an emptiness in me now.”
Fire officials continued to investigate Tuesday what may have caused the fire in the 1300 block of Pater Avenue.
Officials from the State Fire Marshall’s Office, Hamilton police and fire departments and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were at the home Tuesday, according to Hamilton Fire Chief Steve Dawson.
No further details about the cause of the fire or the investigation have been released, and there is no timetable for the investigation’s completion, Dawson said.
Fire officials said crews responding to a fire call at about 1:12 a.m. found heavy smoke coming from three sides of the home. Dawson said firefighters, including Wolterman, moved into the house.
“Shortly after the initial attack, there was a catastrophic event,” Dawson said. He said Wolterman fell through the home’s first floor and into the basement.
Fellow firefighters rescued Wolterman from the basement and performed CPR, but he died at Fort Hamilton Hospital, officials said.
A public memorial service will take place at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at Princeton Pike Church of God, 6106 Princeton Glendale Road in Hamilton. A procession to Spring Grove Cemetery will follow the memorial service, according to Doug Stern, director of communications for the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters.
A private graveside service for family and members of the Hamilton Fire Department will take place at Spring Grove Cemetery, he said. A private funeral Mass for Wolterman’s family is set for today.
IAFF Local 20 President Brian Ruhl said he expects attendance at Wolterman’s funeral to exceed 1,000 mourners, adding that it is not uncommon for firefighters to travel across the country to attend a fallen firefighter’s memorial service.
It is expected that multiple units from around the area will help to staff Hamilton firehouses while many of the firefighters attend Wolterman’s funeral, according to Stern.
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