Friday, March 28, 2003

Contributions, thoughts come in many forms

From live television coverage and signs on interstates to crowds along downtown streets, the funeral for Oscar Armstrong III touched the Tristate and brought firefighters to Cincinnati from as far as New York and Seattle. Among the many moments:

Returning the kindness

The New York Fire Department sent four firefighters to Cincinnati for the service.

Tom McDougall, a firefighter with Tower Ladder 117 in Astoria, Queens, was one of them. He stood beside his comrades in white gloves and a silver-buttoned dress uniform. He is part of a rotating group of New York firefighters who attend firefighter funerals nationwide.

"Since 9-11 ... it's our way of trying to pay back the best we can," McDougall said. "We're trying to pay back for the time when people all over the country came to us."

Armstrong's colleagues will have a tough time in the weeks ahead, he said.

"These guys are in for a long haul because it has been so many years since a firefighter died here," he said. "They're going to feel grief. It's going to he harder in the next few days. They're going to need people to help them."

Teens still dream

Two teenagers in shorts and jeans stood tall behind a line of firefighters in their dress uniforms and saluted as the casket of Oscar Armstrong III was placed high atop Engine 9 for the procession from St. Xavier Church downtown to Spring Grove Cemetery.

The two members of the Miami Township Fire Explorers saluted the fallen firefighter just as the older men did, the ones they want to be like some day.

"There's dangers," said 14-year-old Brad Shelton, who has been in the program six months. "But if you love doing it, you might as well do something you love. The danger is something you think about all the time, but you have to take the risk to make sure everybody else is safe."

His friend Corey Offill, 16, has been in the same program two years. He was struck by how many people came to pay their respects.

"It's a sight to see," he said, watching bagpipers and an honor guard carry a line of flags. "But you don't ever want to see it."

Stand-ins stay busy

It was a busy afternoon for the 110 Columbus firefighters who manned Cincinnati's stations so city firefighters could attend the funeral. The Columbus department also sent about 75 recruits, its honor guard and men to play the bagpipes.

The Columbus personnel used Cincinnati trucks and equipment, but brought their own turnout gear - so the name "Columbus" on the front of their fire helmets may have caused spectators at fire scenes to do a double take.

The Columbus crews made several runs Thursday.

"We had two EMS runs, a car fire and a barrel explosion," said Columbus firefighter John Dill, who was working in Station 14 at Fifth Street and Central Avenue. "It's been busy."

Firefighter Bob Houser was another volunteer.

"I'm just glad to give these guys a chance to be with their friends and their families," he said. "We told them, `Take your time. We'll be here until you're done.'"

Students help serve

At Music Hall, 12 students from the Cincinnati Job Corps Center greeted guests and dished out food at the reception following the funeral. The group also donated 400 cookies baked by culinary students.

Lynay Straughn, business and community liaison for the group, helped organize volunteers ranging in age from 17 to 24.

"I felt bad for the families," said Justin Thompson, a 20-year-old carpentry student from Clermont County. "I felt it would be good to do something for them. We're serving them food and helping out."

Tough day to say farewell

Nearly three hours after making a final call for Armstrong's "Badge 61," fire dispatcher Joseph Jones made his own final call. Thursday was the last day for Jones, who retired after 28 years.

"It's been a pleasure," Jones said. "Stay safe out there and thank you."

Kristina Goetz

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