Saturday, March 22, 2003

Fire widow says community support helped family cope



By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Victoria Ellison and her daughters Michaela 5, and Marissa 8, at her husband's funeral in March 2001.
([name of photographer] photo)
| ZOOM |
UNION TOWNSHIP - Remember, he was doing what he loved when he died.

This bittersweet message echoes in Victoria Ellison's mind as she and her two small daughters push on without their husband and father, Bill Ellison, who until Friday was the last Tristate firefighter to die in the line of duty.

Now, as Oscar Armstrong III's two young sons and his pregnant fiancee struggle to cope without him - two years and one day after Ellison's death - they should cling to that small comfort, Victoria Ellison said Friday.

"He made the greatest sacrifice and that's all that I think God wants us to do in life," Ellison, 38, said from her condominium in Clermont County. "She and the kids can always be proud of Oscar because he had that character. They will have that hero image of him to carry on forever."

Armstrong's death is similar to that of Ellison, a full-time Anderson Township firefighter and a part-time firefighter for Miami Township in western Hamilton County.

Both men selflessly entered homes engulfed in flames because they feared people were inside. Ellison died March 20, 2001, 12 days after being critically injured in a Miami Township blaze. He was 38.

In the days leading up to and after his death, Victoria Ellison and her girls, Maryssa, then 6, and Michaela, then 4, were enveloped in an outpouring of community support and love.

More than $10,000 was raised through fish fries and other efforts as firefighters who worked alongside her husband provided home-cooked meals at the hospital or built swing sets.

Her husband's former co-workers still come to their aid.

Armstrong's loved ones now will be embraced by that same brotherhood, Victoria Ellison said.

"The firefighters will never abandon you," she said. "It's a great, true brotherhood. It's not just a word they throw out. They are there for you through thick and thin. They are not going anywhere."

In the meantime, Armstrong's fiancee should speak of him often to their children - and take comfort that he did not linger, suffering days of unbearable pain.

"If my husband would have lived, he would have had just a horrible, horrible life," Victoria Ellison said. "He wouldn't have been himself. He would have suffered tremendously ... so I think God did the right thing by sparing him all that.''

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com.




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