Over the past few weeks, a number of my columns have discussed a variety of people that most of us would just as soon forget, as remember. These selfish, self-serving simpletons deserve not even a footnote in the history books of our lives. However, such is not the case this week. I want you to learn about someone I will never forget. I am certain that there are people like this who have been a part of your life.
These are those people with whom we have lived, worked, and shared our lives that should never be forgotten. Their greatness will never be scribed on the glossy pages of magazines or lauded from the daises of our major conventions. No, my friends, these are the people who have done great things in a small way. These are the folks who have personally made a difference in our lives. I am suggesting that these are the people must never be forgotten.
Mike Delane was one such man in my life. Mike was a mountain of a man who served in the Rescue Company on Tour #3 in the Newark Fire Department. Although the Rescue Company was not assigned to my battalion, we spent so much time together, both at incidents and in quarters that I came to think of them as being my guys. Hell, even the big boss knew that I hung out there.
Mike was possessed of a unique combination of size, strength, and humanity. He came to be known as a gentle giant. Mike was everything that you would want in a rescue company firefighter. He was brave, strong, loyal, savvy, and possessed of a deep and abiding love for his fellow firefighters.
There was another side to Mike Delane. He loved Elvis Presley. As a matter of fact "Elvis" was a nickname that he loved. Mike also loved motorcycles. He was a stalwart in the Newark Fire Department's Streets of Fire motorcycle club. He lived for the hours he could spend tooling around New Jersey on his Harley Davidson bike.
Above all, Mike loved his wife Heidi. I can recall the times that Heidi would come to the firehouse for a visit. Their love for each other was obvious. Sadly, they had not been married very long before Mike was called home to the Lord.
It was Mike's love for his fellow firefighters and dedication to the job that led him to rush to the aid of a young firefighter who was endangered by the sudden spread of a fire back on October 29, 1994. Mike saw the rookie on the roof of a blazing building. The lad appeared to be in trouble. Without a second's hesitation Mike bounded over to the aerial ladder leading to the rookie's perilous perch. He went to the young lad, took the man's saw and helped him to reach the safety of the ladder.
As they were descending the ladder, a brilliant flash was seen and it was then that we lost Mike. A spark jumped from the electric wires strung about the street and struck the blade of the saw that Mike was carrying for the rookie. In a flash, we lost a friend, companion, and buddy. The rookie survived, however he suffered severe flash burns.
Ten years ago this very week we lost a really great guy. In many places that would be the end of the story. After a line-of-duty funeral the deceased would be quickly consigned to the dusty pages of the department journal. Such has not been the case with Mike.
Many of us spent a great deal of time together trying to make sense of this tragic event. The word "why" was often on our lips. I guess when you can't make sense of something you work to fill the void by doing things. The members of his crew at the time began to create a living memorial to Mike. They have devoted themselves to this task for the last decade. They have served as the nucleus of the effort to keep the name of Mike Delane alive in the Newark Fire Department.
Mike's Captain was Tom McGovern. Tom has devoted countless hours to managing the Newark Fire Department Bulletin Board. This web area serves the members of the NFD. Tom dedicated this page to Mike. His words tell the story. "This site is dedicated to the memory of Mike. He was one of the finest men I have ever known. We will miss him always." Every time I visit the site, I scroll down to this spot and ponder the passage of time. I cannot believe that ten years have passed.
Steve De Ceuster was another of Mike's sidekicks on the Rescue team. Over the past several years Steve has been the driving force behind the annual Newark Fire Department Day at the races. This fundraising event is held during the summer at Monmouth Park in West Long Branch, New Jersey. From the very first day, the proceeds of this event have been dedicated to the Mike Delane Memorial Fund.
Another event championed by Steve involves the annual Coats for Kids program. Warm, winter coats are collected and then given out to needy young people in Newark. This charity is supported by the Delane fund.
A couple of weeks after his death the NFD Streets of Fire motorcycle club sponsored the first annual Elvis Run. I can recall the procession of cyclists as they passed the quarters of the Rescue Company at Mulberry and Lafayette Streets in downtown Newark. The sparkplug for this event was Steve Ciasullo. The club just held the 11th Annual Elvis Run. It is their intention to keep Mike's memory alive. The club members are sharing the stores about Mike with a whole new generation.
Another group that has assisted in the work of keeping the memory of a fallen brother alive is headed up by Captain Jack Doll. He and a committee of loyal stalwarts sponsor the annual Vic Lardiere Golf Tournament. Captain Lardiere was one of three firefighters killed in building collapse back in 1972.
Another buddy of mine, Captain Tom Grehl is involved in the tournament. Tom was at that fire and was with Captain Lardiere shortly before the collapse. It was Lardiere that sent Tom out to the truck to get another pike pole. As Tom was leaving the building it literally collapsed in a heap behind him. That moment was forever seared into his mind's eye. Tom has been a part of the tournament since its earliest days.
Do we remember every deceased member in the same way and manner as we do Mike Delane? Sadly this is not the case. However, my friends and I continue to celebrate the impact that Mike had upon us and our fire department. It is really interesting to see old, retired guys like me still calling it our fire department. But it is.
When you devote a great part of your life to something like the Newark Fire Department, it is difficult to sever all ties. However, as the years pass and the number of people on the job that you know shrinks, there is a distance that grows. However, I shall never forget the fine men I worked with or the great guys that paid for our safety with their lives.
For more than 15 years, it was my privilege to serve as the "voice of command" at all of our line-of-duty funerals, and most of the non-line-of duty, and retired ceremonies. I am proud that I was allowed the privilege of sharing in the final tributes to the following men:
1984 - Firefighter James Murray
1985 - Firefighter Marcus Riddick
1991 - Captain Joseph McCarthy
1994 - Firefighter Mike Delane
Let me pay a tribute to them in the worlds made famous Laurence Binyon in 1914:
They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning; We will remember them - For the Fallen (1914)
Thanks to people like Tom, Steve, Steve, Jack, as well as Carl Wendt and George Anderson, among others, people in years to come will know about Mike.