Retired Fire Chief Neil Mangan and retired Fire Capt. Forest Green place a wreath Nov. 21 in remembrance of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base firefighters who died in the line of duty. Mangan and Green both were among those who battled a blaze Nov. 21, 1961, which killed two of their fellow firefighters. Chase McGrath, 788th Civil Engineering Squadron district fire chief, and Steven McKee, International Association of Firefighters Local F88 secretary/treasurer, assisted in the wreath laying. (U.S. Air Force photo/R.J. Oriez)

Wright-Patterson community honors fallen firefighters

The 88th Air Base Wing Fire Station No. 1 held a memorial service Nov. 21 to honor the firefighters who lost their lives serving the community.

Capt. Steven McKee from Fire Station No. 1 welcomed attendees and introduced speakers.

Maj. Tyler Johnson of the 788th Civil Engineering Squadron acknowledged the firefighters who served and lost their lives, which included Frank A. Smith who died in 1932 while fighting a fire in a Motor Pool facility; Dale V. Kelchner and William J. Collins who both lost their lives fighting the fire that burned down Air Force Logistics Command (Bldg. 262-A, now Bldg. 266) in 1961; and Harold “Sparky” Sparks who died of a heart attack after fighting a fire in 2009.

“Today is about honoring those who leave their homes and families to serve us as a community. These men committed their lives to a profession of service. They looked danger in the eye, and they ran into the flames. Today we remember their courage and sacrifice,” said Johnson.

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According to a report of the Bldg. 262-A fire on Nov. 21, 1961, firefighters responded to a call at 11:50 p.m. and later called for assistance from airmen and firefighters from surrounding communities. Firefighters managed to stop the fire from spreading, but a backdraft caused the fire in the building to worsen, trapping rescuers inside. Kelchner and Collins were found in the following days.

Fire Chief Jacob King acknowledged the family members of those who served.

“Since 1917, we have protected this community and dedicated our lives to the mission,” King said. “We will continue to carry on this mission every day and will continue to remember our past and embrace our future. My sincere thanks to those who have served and my condolences to the family members who have lost a loved one.”

Col. Thomas Sherman, 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander, spoke of the importance of the men and women who serve and protect the public and shared his ties to firefighting in his own family.

“I grew up in a family of firefighters. My father has served as a wildland firefighter for over 50 years in California, and I too had the honor of serving as a firefighter before joining the Air Force,” Sherman said. “Today, I want us to reflect on those who have served the Wright-Patt Fire Department and have lost their lives in the line of duty but also honor those who keep that hope alive and continue to answer the call to serve others.”

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