Ocean City, Maryland Firefighters Celebrate 100 Years In Style; Building Memorial To Fallen Comrades

With the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company (OCVFC) rapidly coming up on its 100th year of service in the resort, firefighters unveiled final plans this week for a prominent memorial to fallen comrades at home and abroad.

The OCVFC asked the Ocean City Mayor and Council for permission on Tuesday to build its planned 2,500-square-foot firefighter memorial on the sand near the Boardwalk at North Division Street. The $255,000 project is being funded by the department's fundraising efforts and planning has been underway for almost two years. The memorial will honor the resort's fallen firefighters as well as from around the world.

Since its inception, the OCVFC has lost three of its members to line of duty deaths. The first casualty was Fire Chief Ralph Dennis in 1937. Dennis was a founder of the fire ompany and was the principal of the Ocean City High School. Firefighter Jeffrey L. Dieter was killed in the Saute Cafe blaze of July 16, 1983. The restaurant was located at 123rd Street on the bayside. OCVF Engine No. 4 was dedicated to Dieter's memory on the 20th anniversary of the fire. The third casualty the department suffered occurred on April 28, 1995 when Firefighter Leroy J. Cropper Jr. passed away. Cropper, a Gold Badge member of the department, suffered a heart attack on April 24 during a hotel fire.

The original design for the statue called for a 2,500-square-foot cement pad with a life-size statue of a fireman located at the center. The four-corner, granite base of the statue will honor the OCVFC, the casualties of Sept. 11, local officials and firefighters worldwide. The corners of the plaza will be festooned with United States, Maryland, Ocean City and Worcester County flags. "This will be a very beautiful piece of art that is dedicated to Ocean City," Capt. James Jester, OCVFC President, said.

The design was well-received, but some criticisms were voiced. Jester acknowledged that downtown advocacy groups, the Boardwalk Development Association (BDA) and the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC), expressed concern about the location. "Our question is about the carnival atmosphere of the Boardwalk and how will this memorial fit in with that," OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin said. BDA Representative and Boardwalk business owner Todd Ferrante said the group fully supported the memorial, but also had some concerns about location.

"We just didn't feel like it was the best venue," he said.Ocean City Maintenance Supervisor Bruce Gibbs highlighted another possible problem with the proposal, the fact it is located north of the Boardwalk on the sand.

"We all know what will happen when a nor'easter comes through there," Gibbs said. "When that sand blows up, is that going to tear this monument up?"

Some councilmembers also questioned Jester on the project. Council President Rick Meehan had some initial concerns about size and the four walls the design called for. "You hate to box people in, and I think the walls create a barrier," Meehan said.

After hearing the concern, Jester agreed to revisit the number of walls originally planned for. Reflecting on it, Jester said opening the memorial up and removing all but the wall butting up to the Comfort Station would ease pedestrian traffic and reduce the cost of the project overall. "You just made my job easier," Jester said.

Councilman Joe Mitrecic also had some questions about the proposed 50-foot by 50-foot pad. He said the size of the pad could diminish the impact of the life-size firefighter statue. "I believe the statue and the base are going to get lost in the middle of this thing, in my opinion," Mitrecic said. "There's no way you could miss this thing," Jester replied.

The bulk of the concern, however, echoed that of the OCDC and the BDA. Ocean City Mayor Jim Mathias, a fireman and the OCVFC's pastor, questioned whether the memorial should be in a more "serene" setting. "There's a lot going on there," Mathias said. "You might wind up with more of a circus atmosphere than you anticipated."

Councilwoman Nancy Howard also had some reservations about the location of the memorial. She said she was concerned about what impact it might have on the Boardwalk Arch view. She said it could also lead to similar requests for space from other public safety agencies like the Emergency Medical Services.

Jester said the department wanted to coincide the memorial's construction with the OCVFC's upcoming 100th anniversary. He said changing the location would throw the timetable off and, in addition, the Boardwalk site had the full backing of the OCVFC membership.

Councilman Joe Hall, however, agreed with Jester that the site was ideal for the memorial. He said it seemed to be a perfect fit."I understand why they want to be on the Boardwalk, they want the exposure," Hall said. "I think the Boardwalk is absolutely the right location."

Councilman Vince Gisriel also agreed, saying, "I think it needs a place of prominence, too and the other locations might not give it the prominence it deserves."

The council voted unanimously to approve the location of the memorial. Jester