ST. LOUIS (AP) - Colleagues and family described men who were
heroes even before their final actions, as a city mourned two
firefighters killed in the line of duty - the first here in a
quarter-century.
Derek Martin and Robert "Bruce" Morrison, both 38-year-old
husbands and fathers, died in a burning refrigeration plant Friday
night, reportedly trying to save a colleague.
The words of the wives they left behind offer a glimpse of the
men they were:
"He was completely unselfish," said Laura Morrison. "This was
shown in his final act, which was to give his life to save someone
else's."
Said Angela Martin: "What makes me happy is that for these past
few years, he's lived a saved life and been an example not just for
me but for our children and everybody he's touched."
Martin has three children: Jordan, 13, Denzel, 11, and Kayla, 3.
Morrison has an 11-year-old son, Matthew, and an 8-year-old
daughter, Megan.
A saddened city planned a memorial service for later in the week
to honor the firefighters.
Fire Chief Sherman George said Sunday that funeral services were
planned for Robert Morrison on Wednesday and Derek Martin on
Thursday. Firefighters will work with the families to plan a larger
public service, perhaps for Friday or Saturday in downtown St.
Louis, George said.
It was initially believed that both Martin and Morrison had
rushed into the fire to save a colleague. In Monday's editions of
the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, however, Battalion Chief James
Wedemeier gave this account:
Capt. Dan Dieters was inside the building after much of the fire
on the first floor had been doused. He walked to the back of the
building to let out some of the smoke. Then the first floor
reignited behind Dieters, and he found the back door padlocked.
Dieters called a mayday over his radio. Another firefighter went
around the building and cut the padlock with a bolt cutter to free
Dieters. The blaze got hotter quickly, and horns signaled
firefighters to leave. But not all of them were able. After a head
count, it was discovered that Morrison was missing.
He was found on the second floor, burned, unconscious, and
covered with debris. Firefighter Mark Nagl dragged Morrison out.
That's when it was discovered that Martin was missing; he had gone
up to the second floor to look for Morrison.
Firefighter Marty Hernandez found him toward the back of the
second floor. Hernandez dragged him to a nearby window, but it was
too late. Martin was pronounced dead that night; Morrison lived
until Saturday morning.
They became the 31st and 32nd firefighters to die on the job
this year in the United States, according to the U.S. Fire
Administration, a division of the Federal Emergency Management
Agency.
Last year, there were 445, but 346 of those died on Sept. 11 in
New York City - small wonder that firefighters have gotten added
recognition since the terrorist attacks for their dangerous work.
In contrast, 94 died in the line of duty in 2000 and have been
added to a national memorial in Emmitsburg, Md.
"I think we all have to realize that these things happen all
across the country," George said. "We always have to worry about
the other shoe dropping. It's just a matter of time."
Martin and Morrison also were the first Missouri firefighters
killed in the line of duty this year. Last year, four Missouri
firefighters died on the job.
Before Friday, it hadn't happened in St. Louis since Nov. 24,
1977, when Howard Crider had a heart attack at a house fire.
Both Martin and Morrison had been with the department since
1990.
"I look after them just like I look after my own children,"
George said. "It's really hard to take. There are no words to
describe how I feel ... I have never lost a child. But this is as
close as I can get without losing one of my own children."
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On the Net:
U.S. Fire Administration: www.usfa.fema.gov

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press.