Thursday, October 10, 2002

Firefighter memorial effort grows

Restaurateur does part for N. Ky. tribute

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

“Upstairs, Into the Fire
May your strength give us strength,
May your faith give us faith”
- Bruce Springsteen, “Into the Fire”, from “The Rising,” 2002

They have become a growth industry over the past year — solemn salutes to firefighters who went to work and never came home.

Hundreds of public memorials to firefighters have sprung up nationally in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, when 343 New York City firefighters were killed. Locally, communities from Cincinnati to Sycamore Township to Hamilton already had them, and at least two other cities — Blue Ash and Loveland — have begun plans.

Northern Kentucky has nothing, yet.

[photo] Taps is sounded Wednesday during Cincinnati's annual firefighters memorial observance.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
Tonight, fire chiefs and other memorial organizers hope the preview of the Tropicana at Newport on the Levee will provide a financial kick-start for a firefighter memorial near the World Peace Bell. Tropicana owner Jeff Ruby is donating all the proceeds from the $75-a-head evening.

Historically, public memorials commemorated wars or events at a particular site — not public servants like firefighters or crime fighters, said Carole Blair, a historian on public memorials and executive director of the University of California's research center in Washington, D.C.

Memorials that did recognize such public servants were usually statues or plaques in front of fire stations, she said.

“Obviously since last September, there's been a huge boom” in larger memorials, Ms. Blair said.

The proposed memorial in Newport would include the names of firefighters killed from Kenton, Campbell, Boone and Pendleton counties. No one is certain how many names would be on it.

“It's not a large number, but then, one is a large number;” Larry Atwell, Newport Fire Chief and chairman of the Firefighters Monument Fund Drive, said Wednesday. “You've got on average 110 killed nationally annually. The number killed, it's unacceptable.”

The most recent Northern Kentucky firefighter killed on the job is believed to be Burlington's Donnie Kirkpatrick. He was investigating a home fire during an October 1989 snowstorm when he was electrocuted by a downed wire. He was two months short of his 43rd birthday.

About three years ago, a similar fund-raising effort by Chief Atwell fell flat.

Public receptiveness has changed dramatically since then.

“I think it's important to honor firefighters and what better place

than at the World Peace Bell,” Rocky Aldridge, 42, of Dayton, Ky., said Wednesday at a bus stop in the shadow of the World Peace Bell.

The estimated cost of a memorial is $100,000 for a seven- or eight-foot tall bronze statue of a firefighter carrying a small child.

The fund has $1,350 in the bank so far, “and a lot of commitments,” Chief Atwell said.

“This is a scary time economically,” Ms. Blair said. “There will be funding issues for many of these.”

That's a concern for Peggy Crowley, 51, of Butler, Pendleton County, though she embraces the idea of a privately financed memorial.

“It depends on where they get the money,” she said, “but especially after 9-11, if it weren't for (firefighters) a lot of people would be dead.”

Earlier this year, an anonymous donor from Louisville offered to finance a memorial in front of Burlington's new fire station, which opened in July. It salutes all fallen firefighters and could be completed by early next year.

“It was in the works before the Northern Kentucky memorial, which we wholeheartedly support,” said Burlington Fire Lt. Kevin Vogelpohl.

“In general,” Ms. Blair said, “most would agree memorials are supposed to generate a sense of collective event. Then, there's an event the magnitude of 9-11.”


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