HAMILTON FIREFIGHTERS WHO HAVE DIED IN THE LINE OF DUTY
John M. Hunker
William M. Love
George P. Fritz
Don A. Howard
Clifford F. Peters
George J. Kramer
George J. Schneider
Moss G. Prueitt
Paul R. Cook
Ralph I. Thomas
Stanley J. Meyer
To Tony Harris, those words hardly seem like an adequate expression for the ultimate sacrifice Hamilton firefighter Patrick Wolterman made when he died battling a fire in the early morning hours on Dec. 28. They also can’t sufficiently sum up the deep gratitude that Hamilton firefighters have for a community that wrapped its arms around them during one of the department’s darkest hours.
“Thank you is not enough to say to him, but thank you is also not enough to say to everybody who did something for us,” said Harris, president of the IAFF Local 20, which represents Hamilton firefighters.
He said the support from the local community and other fire departments, local and around the country, “really helped heal us in a lot of ways, and really is something that is still helping to heal us.”
It's been almost two months since Wolterman, 28, fell through the floor of a home on Pater Avenue while dragging a fire hose in an attempt to put out the blaze. Wolterman, who had only been with the Hamilton Fire Department since April, died from injuries suffered in the fire, which has since been ruled an arson. The search for those responsible for setting the fire continues.
Harris, who spoke exclusively with the Journal-News in order to provide an insight into the hearts and minds of Hamilton firefighters after the loss of their comrade, said many are still coping with grief, but the outpouring of support they've received from everyone has been a great salve for their wounds.
“I think back to the morning of — we get back to the firehouse after that fire and getting people off that scene — and there was already a Critical Instance Stress Team (CIST) there waiting to see if we needed to talk with counselors,” said Harris, who has been with the department for 13 years. “Hamilton fire administration and union leadership from the state had brought those people in immediately.”
Harris said it was helpful to have Matt Alter, president of the Cincinnati Firefighters Union Local 48, show up immediately after hearing of Wolterman's death. Cincinnati had just a few month's earlier experienced the loss of firefighter Daryl Gordon in the line of duty.
“He (Alter) was at our firehouse at 4:30 in the morning. In the wake of their loss, they were willing to help in any way they could,” Harris said. “We had a debriefing for the guys at 6:30 or 7 o’clock before the guys got off duty so everybody could talk.”
Harris, sifting through his notes while sitting in a chair in the back of the business — Made to Love — that he owns with his wife, Christin and friend Shari Miller, said there are a few things people should know.
Leadership in the time of crisis
Local fire departments and Doug Stern of the Ohio Professional Fire Fighters (OPFF) rallied behind Hamilton upon hearing of Wolterman’s death.
“By the time the briefing was over we had 30 to 40 people in the conference room to discuss what happens next,” Harris said. “From the get-go, it was always about ‘how do we honor Pat and how do we honor his family?’ Logistically coordinating everything would have been a nightmare for us.”
When the funeral was scheduled for Thursday, Harris said Stern and departments like Colerain worked hard to help take care of some behind-the-scenes arrangements that made Wolterman's service run smoothly and to make sure the fallen firefighter's family was taken care of.
From getting the fire truck ready that carried Wolterman’s body through the streets of Hamilton to the church for his memorial to the many restaurants and citizens that provided food, the firefighters are grateful.
“We had so many people send food, offer help, and it was overwhelming,” Harris said. “We still get random things like people providing us dinner. I feel bad not being able to name each person one-by-one, but that helped out.”
Firefighters from six area departments staffed Hamilton fire stations during Wolterman’s memorial service so his colleagues could attend.
“His (Wolterman’s) crew that worked with him everyday — those were the ones who knew him the best,” Harris said. “Those guys were really able to be pallbearers and be integral parts of the service.”
Men and women from departments in Cincinnati, Monroe and Hanover, Ross, Liberty and Fairfield townships helped staff Hamilton’s five fire stations, according to Hamilton Fire Chief Steve Dawson.
Binder of Love
About 3,700 mourners — including 2,000 uniformed firefighters — packed the inside of Princeton Pike Church of God for Wolterman’s service, while thousands more lined a 23-mile procession route to pay their respects.
Some came from as far as Canada, and Smith said it was very heartwarming to see firefighters from New York with their “FDNY” badges on. He added that a line of duty death brings out an inner strength among firefighters to help each other out. Wolterman was the Hamilton Fire Department’s first in the line of duty death since 1971.
The fire department now has a huge binder filled with cards, challenge coins and notes of well-wishes and prayers from around the country, but the most interesting story is about a Hamilton New Jersey Fire Department that went the extra mile.
“They tried to get a hold of the department but couldn’t so they went on Yelp (restaurant finding website) and found Milillo’s (Hamilton pizzeria),” Harris explained. “They placed an order for food, and they explained to the lady at Milillo’s they found the place on YELP — she didn’t know what that meant.”
Harris said the restaurant confirmed the order was legitimate and then added to the order to send to the local fire department.
Counseling has been a constant and will remain available for firefighters and their families. Harris said the Fitton Center for Creative Arts provided space for counselors to meet with families that needed to work through their grief.
Community First Solutions also providing counseling services to help firefighters. Harris said his wife along with many other spouses have formed a tight bond in the past few months and actively have been taking advantage of counseling opportunities.
The group has banned together to organize a 5K event in May at the request of Wolterman’s widow Bre, who is hoping the event will raise money to help fund sending a bereavement team and honor guard to other fallen firefighter’s memorial services.
The goal is to also help raise money to send Bre and other family members, along with those who served with Wolterman to Colorado and Washington D.C when he’s honored at the Fallen Fire Fighter Memorials.
“Our goal is to get her there to both places and not have her pay for anything,” Harris said.