Friends say he's not the last person you'd expect to charge into a burning building. He's the first.
That's Jerrold Ware's way.
"He's not intimidated by anything," says fellow Cincinnati firefighter Greg Williams.
"You can always count on him to pull his load and more," adds firefighter Jamiel Trimble.
"Jerrold was very tough when he played football," says Ed Youngs, Ware's former coach at the University of Cincinnati.
"I just didn't know he was that brave, too."
Jerrold Ware showed his courage in the line of duty over the weekend. With a 4-year-old girl trapped in a burning North Fairmount apartment building, the Cincinnati firefighter was the first man through the door. He rushed up four flights of stairs to the girl's burning bedroom.
"Jerrold loves to be first," says Jamiel Trimble. "He's very competitive. Just play basketball with him. I'm seven inches taller than he is. But he never expects to lose."
Jerrold Ware refuses to lose.
As the little girl was rescued, Jerrold was suddenly trapped by an explosive flashover. Engulfed in searing heat and flames - and with no way down the stairs - he went out the window. He fell four stories, crashing through power lines and landing on top of the oxygen tank firefighters call their air bottle.
When Jerrold came to in critical condition in University Hospital's burns unit, the first thing he wanted to know was: Is the little girl all right?
He couldn't ask that out loud. Tubes were keeping him from talking.
So, he took his one good thumb - on the hand taped to a board and threaded with IVs - and scratched this one-word question on his chest:
The 31-year-old firefighter probably had that 4-year-old on his mind because he is the father of three little girls. Maybe he thought of them as he entered the building. Could he see his girls in his mind, crying for help from the top floor of the new townhouse where they live in a restored section of the West End?
Or did he remember how he loves to take them to soccer practice and show them off to his co-workers?
"He's always bringing them by the firehouse," says firefighter Will Jones. "He's so proud of his girls."
No one knows exactly what Jerrold was thinking. But those closest to him know how he acts.
He dashed into that old apartment the same way he ran during his days in the mid-'80s as a punishing linebacker with 100 tackles to his credit during his junior and senior years at UC.
"When he took on a task," remembers Bruce Ivory, UC assistant athletic director, "there was never any half-way. He's the ultimate overachiever with a big heart."
Will Jones thinks of Jerrold's big heart every time he looks out his windows at home.
"He helped me re-screen my windows," he says. "Jerrold's always helping me with something, giving me advice, fixing up my house or helping me get through
Will Jones and Greg Williams are holding a vigil for Jerrold, still listed in critical condition, at the hospital.
"We're here because he's more than our great friend," says Will. "He's our brother."
They've worked together at fires and watched out for each other. Now, they're watching out for him and remembering better times. They remember returning, safe from a fire. They'd pull into the firehouse, their truck filled with empty air bottles and caked with soot and ashes.
As soon as they'd start cleaning up, Jerrold would start singing gospel music. His voice is loud and deep. It echoes throughout the firehouse.
If Jerrold could sing one song today, Greg would like to hear him do "Amazing Grace."
No choice could be more appropriate. One of Jerrold's favorites, the hymn is about the perils of falling and the joys of being saved.
Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.
OWNERS FACE CHARGES IN FIRE Tuesday, Sept. 3, 1997
RESCUED GIRL, MOM PRAY FOR FIREFIGHTER Tuesday, Sept. 2, 1997
BURNED RESCUER ASKS FATE OF LITTLE GIRL Monday, Sept. 1, 1997
FELLOW FIREFIGHTER KNOWS WARE'S PAIN Monday, Sept. 1, 1997
SIXTH SENSE WARNED OF DANGER Monday, Sept. 1, 1997
FOUR FIREFIGHTERS HURT IN RESCUE Aug. 31, 1997
HOW IT HAPPENED (96K GIF) Aug. 31, 1997