April 22, 2018
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Deputy fire chief searching for former Portland firefighters as monument dedication nears

By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — An etched black granite monument honoring Portland firefighters who died in the line of duty now stands on the Congress Street site of the city’s central fire station.

The memorial will be dedicated in a July 28 ceremony that Deputy Fire Chief David Jackson says could be attended by as many as 300 people. But he hopes many more will show up.

Jackson presided over a preview look at the monument Wednesday for Portland-area media outlets in hopes that the advance coverage would notify retired firefighters or their family members of the upcoming event.

“We’ve already mailed out over 450 invitations to a lot of people we have in our database of firefighters, former firefighters and their families, but we haven’t touched base with everybody,” Jackson said Wednesday. “We know there are other firefighters out there who are long retired — or family members of the names on this memorial or any firefighter who has since passed away — and who we don’t have contact information for. We’d really like to give them the opportunity to get in touch with us to get on the database for contacts and mailings, and certainly to get them invitations to come to the dedication.”

The monument was conceived 15 years ago by now-retired department officer Larry Libby, and fundraising began in earnest when a department committee reinvigorated the plan in 2008. Jackson said that committee raised more than $32,000 for the monument.

“We’re recognizing that the names on this monument, they gave their all — the ultimate sacrifice — never taking into consideration their own safety, but to protect the citizens and property of the city of Portland,” Jackson said.

The 20 names on the memorial begin with Thomas Burnham, who died in 1903 from burns suffered in a fire at Sturdivant’s Wharf. Burnham, who was 68 at the time, retired from the department 25 years earlier, but returned to service at the wharf to help his former station mates one last time.

The most recent name listed is that of Frank Cowan, who was 44 when he suffered a heart attack fighting a fire at a Congress Street restaurant, then died in 1993 after a second heart attack at home in the aftermath.

In addition to the granite marker and three flag poles, the monument site includes a brick walkway and two engraved benches. According to an announcement distributed by Jackson Wednesday, “the memorial was designed as a place for quiet reflection for firefighters, family members and the community.”

“This monument is sitting here at the central station on the west lawn, where previously there’s been three other fire stations exactly where we’re standing right now,” Jackson said. “Looking at all these names, at some point all these firefighters served either in those buildings [on the site previously] or in the central fire station that’s here now. It couldn’t be any more fitting a location.”

Former Portland firefighters or family members who do not believe they are included in the department database may call 874-8400 or 756-8375 to be added or email Local740@portlandmaine.gov.

The July 28 dedication ceremony is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. at the 380 Congress St. site, with a rain date slated for the following day.

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