Ottney: Hearts behind badgesWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
For more than 15 years, Stephen Machcinski fought fires, responded to medical calls and saved lives in Toledo. Until Jan. 26, 2014, only his friends and family knew his name.
One of his last calls was to the North Toledo home of Tina Petersen, who had a seizure in January 2014. A few days later, Petersen recognized the Toledo Fire & Rescue Department EMTs who had responded — Machcinski and fellow Toledo firefighter James Dickman — in a news story about a fatal fire. She attended the June rededication of Fire Station No. 3 to introduce herself to the Machcinski and Dickman families and thank them in person.
There are no doubt countless Tina Petersens in Toledo — not to mention in Perkins Township, where Dickman served for 10 years before joining Toledo’s department only months before he died — who were served or even saved by Machcinski or Dickman and will never realize it was them.
It’s only when tragedy strikes that most of us actually learn the names and stories of those who protect us day and night.
Years ago I noticed a friend’s mom would bow her head every time a police vehicle, ambulance or fire truck blared past, saying a little prayer for the first responders as well as whomever they were rushing to help. I got into the habit myself and still think about her every time I hear a siren.
Service calls, of course, don’t stop for heartache. A fire broke out in the city during last year’s Last Alarm ceremony and crews responded. Another crew left this year’s anniversary memorial service at the Historic Church of St. Patrick to respond to a medical call. While talking to a firefighter for a story earlier this year, I heard tones go off at the station on the other end of the phone. He calmly continued the conversation even as he slid down the pole, grabbed his gear and jumped on a truck. Even as I write this, I hear sirens outside, heading somewhere. All in a day’s work.
Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of talking to Toledo Police Deputy Chief Don Kenney Jr. for a story I was writing about multigenerational first responders. He’s been on the job more than 30 years and his father, Don Kenney Sr., was a Toledo firefighter. Kenney Jr.’s son and daughter are both Toledo police officers and his daughter-in-law is a Toledo Police detective.
“To this day, he is still out going to calls with patrolmen and coming in on Friday nights and holidays because his patrolmen have to,” daughter Pvt. Kellie Kenney told me. “This past Thanksgiving, he finished eating and got up to put on his uniform. I asked what he was doing and he said, ‘I’m going to spend Thanksgiving on the street.’ And he did.”
That’s the dedication of the first responders who serve this city.
It’s clear first responders, firefighters in particular, are a tight-knit family that takes care of its own. Hundreds filled St. Pat’s for a private memorial ceremony on the one-year anniversary of the fatal fire.
Last January, Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago remarked that TFD and the extended firefighting community would always be there for the friends and families of their fallen, including the proverbial “Monday morning” when media and others have moved on to the next big story.
This past Monday morning proved how true that was.
Sarah Ottney is Editor in Chief of Toledo Free Press.