Robert Hetzer

Dayton firefighter added to National Fallen Firefighters Memorial wall

A Dayton native has been added to the national Fallen Firedighters Memorial in Colorado, thanks to a recent rule change.

Robert “Bobby” Hetzer, who served with the Dayton Fire Department for nearly 30 years, was one of 250 names added to the wall in Colorado Springs at the national Fallen Firefighters Memorial on Saturday.

“It was heart-wrenching,” said Bronson Hetzer, Bobby’s son.

Hetzer died in 2018 of pancreatic cancer, which was believed to be caused by the exposure to harmful carcinogens during his career as a firefighter. That made him eligible for the memorial, as the International Association of Firefighters now considers cancers and other occupational illnesses from smoke and toxic materials part of the criteria, particularly since 9/11.

Other factors include:

— Any death of an IAFF member where the deceased member’s family would be eligible for a line-of-duty death benefit under the regulations of the U.S. Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program.

— Any death of an IAFF member that has been determined to be a line-of-duty death by his or her local union, fire department or employer.

— Any death of an IAFF member where the member died of an injury or illness incurred while engaged in emergency or non-emergency duties on the job or as a result of the job.

— Any death of IAFF member clinically diagnosed that the cause of death was job-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Other cases where a local president makes a formal request to the General President, who will evaluate the circumstances surrounding the death of the IAFF member and make a determination based on the facts.

Hetzer was 56 years old when he died on Oct. 26. He joined the fire department in 1984 and retired in June 2013.

Hetzer’s wife, Michele, son, daughter-in-law, Erin, and daughter, Jess, were all in attendance at Saturday’s ceremony.

Three of Hetzer’s closest friends and Dayton firefighters, Jim Burneka, Gaye Jordan and Anita O’Reilly, accompanied the family.

“When you are sitting at the memorial, hearing the names being called and then you hear your loved one, it’s like the funeral all over again,” Bronson Hetzer said. “You lose it at that point.”

Burneka, a trustee for Dayton Firefighters Local 136, had the honor of handing the American Flag to Hetzer’s wife when his name was called.

“Handing a flag to a widow is an honor, but I never want to do it again,” Burneka said.

The ceremony brought thousands of firefighters from the United States and Canada to say one last ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye.’

Chemicals today are more harmful when they burn than they were in the 1980s, said Dayton Local 136 President Steve Dunham. That why fire departments across the country now require their staffs to have two sets of gear, so that they can wash them after every fire.

The national Fallen Firefighters Memorial was constructed in 1981 to honor those fallen firefighters who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Upgrades have been made over the years.

Each year, about 200 new names are added and special sections for those firefighters that rushed into the World Trade Centers on 9/11 or helped with recovery efforts after. The wall currently has 8,182 names that go as far back at 1918, when the IAFF was established, said the IAFF spokeman Doug Stern.

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