Struggle remains for Hamilton firefighters one year after tragedy

Memorial service this morning to mark one-year anniversary of Patrick Wolterman’s death.

The pending murder trial and investigations after the death of Hamilton firefighter Patrick Wolterman one year ago today have taken their toll on the Hamilton Fire Department.

“We still see guys having troubles,” Tony Harris, president of Hamilton IAFF Local 20, told the Journal-News last week after a court hearing for the man accused in Wolterman’s death. “We have guys who were there that night who struggle and we have people who weren’t there struggle. It’s going to be a challenge over the next few weeks.”

Wolterman died Dec. 28, 2015, from injuries he sustained while battling a blaze at a Hamilton home. He was the department’s first fatality in the line of duty since 1971.

The fire was later ruled an arson. Lester Parker, 66, the owner of the Pater Avenue home, is charged with murder and aggravated arson.

MORE: Owners of home where arson occurred refused to discuss insurance claim

Wolterman, 28, entered the house fire after learning an elderly couple was possibly trapped inside. He died attempting to save lives.

“What Patrick gave was the ultimate sacrifice and we certainly hurt thinking about that … his bravery,” Harris said. “We think about his family and how they have let us in to their mourning and that has helped us heal too. Whatever we are going through takes a backseat to what they are dealing with.”

Firefighters have packed the courtroom at each of Parker’s hearing, and Harris said firefighters will be present throughout the court hearing to support Wolterman’s family. In fact, when TV cameras attempted last week to film Wolterman’s widow, Bre, sitting in the courtroom, three Hamilton firefighters moved to stand in front of her.

Harris said the past year has also been marked an outpouring of support from the city and its residents.

“People have just walked up and said ‘thank you’ or brought in cookies,” he said. “We are a blue collar department that has been shown love and respect by a great city.”

In May, more than 800 runners and walkers — a majority who had never met Wolterman — participated in a 5K fundraiser that was organized by Wolterman’s widow and seven Hamilton firefighter wives.

In July, a special beer tapping for Wolterman was held at Municipal Brew Works.

Funds raised at both events offset the expenses of sending Hamilton firefighters and the department’s Honor Guard to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Maryland and the International Association of Firefighters Memorial in Colorado.

Today, Hamilton will continue its embrace of Wolterman, his family and the city’s firefighters.

A public memorial ceremony will take place at 8:30 a.m. in front of the Fitton Center between Monument and Court streets.

Harris said today’s ceremony will be another way to bring healing.

“ One year later it is still very emotional for everybody, but especially for his family,” he said.

Doug Stern of the Ohio Professional Fire Fighters, said today’s memorial will be an opportunity to show respect for Wolterman and his family.

“He was a great firefighter and family man,” Stern said. “He was a low-key guy and this ceremony that is going to be brief and poignant is a perfect tribute to him.”

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