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.