St. PEtersburg Times--South Pinellas

Tim Hill: Noted rescuer, firefighter

In his nearly 28-year career, Mr. Hill specialized in saving people from the bay area's waters.

By MIKE BRASSFIELD, Times Staff Writer
St. Petersburg Times
published May 4, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG - Tim Hill was a firefighter's firefighter.

For nearly 28 years, he pulled people out of burning houses and wrecked cars. But his specialty was rescuing people in trouble out on the water.

"I couldn't tell you how many people he has directly saved," said Gerard Chalmers, a district fire chief in St. Petersburg. "He was an excellent firefighter. He was very heavily involved in the marine operations of the Fire Department."

Mr. Hill, 55, a longtime lieutenant with the St. Petersburg Fire Department, died Saturday (May 3, 2003) of cancer.

Colleagues say he played a big role in shaping the city's marine rescue unit and dive team. His crew went out on the water whenever there was a boating accident, or someone drowning, or someone who jumped off the Sunshine Skyway. They dived beneath the surface of ponds, lakes, Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico to look for bodies or evidence in crimes.

Mr. Hill joined the Fire Department in the summer of 1975. At first, he worked out of the old No. 5 station that once stood at 1001 16th St. S. He quickly got involved in the marine unit.

When the Coast Guard cutter Blackthorn sank in Tampa Bay in 1980, killing 23 crew members, Mr. Hill donned his dive suit and tapped on the ship's hull to search for survivors. Later that year, when the old Skyway collapsed, Mr. Hill was one of the divers who retrieved 35 bodies from the water beneath the bridge.

"He's always been our leader," said firefighter James Cunningham, a member of the city's dive team. "We felt very safe with him. Whatever situation we were going into, we knew that if Tim was there watching our backs, then we'd be going home at the end of the shift."

Friends say Mr. Hill's gruff, somewhat sarcastic exterior hid a warm and giving heart. Co-workers say his firefighting philosophy combined "old school" ways and the most modern techniques.

Mr. Hill became a lieutenant in 1987. He spent the bulk of his career in the city's busy No. 5 station at 455 Eighth St. S and more recently at the Lakewood firehouse at 5050 31st St. S.

On his last work shift, Feb. 22, he felt a sharp pain in his stomach. He was soon diagnosed with cancer.

On March 11, he married his girlfriend, Mary Ann Peltier.

He died early Saturday at Largo Medical Center, where fellow firefighters had been staying with him around the clock this past week.

"He was a good guy, a hard worker, loyal and dedicated, a competent leader," said St. Petersburg Fire Lt. Rick Feinberg.

A memorial tribute will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday at Brett Funeral Home, 4800 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church of Rutland, in Mr. Hill's wife's hometown on State Road 44 just west of Interstate 75.