Survivor of deadly 1961 fire remembers lost TFD brothers

Don Riddle
Don Riddle
The memorial in front of Riddle's house.
The memorial in front of Riddle's house.

TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) - The last time the Toledo Fire Department has had to deal with the loss of multiple firefighters in one incident was over 50 years ago.

Former firefighter Don Riddle nearly lost his life in the deadly Anthony Wayne Trail fire in 1961. He still remembers the pain of losing four fellow firefighters in that fire, and he feels the pain of the department now, as they deal with the loss of Privates Stephen Machcinski and Jamie Dickman, who died in a fire on Sunday.

The flag is at half-staff in front of Riddle's home, and below it are two yellow flowers, one for each of Sunday's fallen heroes. Riddle's helmet also sits there, but it's actually a replacement. His original helmet was destroyed in the Anthony Wayne Trail fire more than 50 years ago.

"I will never forget the day we left the engine house and saw the enormous black cloud of smoke in the sky down on the Trail, and we thought, 'What are we getting ourselves into here?'" Riddle said. "We just did normally what we usually do. We laid lines and tried to get water on it, but before that happened, it blew up in our faces."

Riddle says he thinks of that fire and his four lost brothers every day. Learning of the passing of Dickman and Machcinski hit close to home.

"It was déjà vu all over again," he said. "It seemed like it was happening all over again, and I never thought that it would be happening again."

He says he understands what Toledo firefighters are going through now, and while he has been retired since 1989, Riddle plans to pay his respects to his lost brothers at Wednesday night's service at the Historic Church of St. Patrick. The service will be held at 5:30 p.m. and there will be another Sunday at 10 a.m.

He says once a fireman, always a fireman.

"Just don't take the firefighters for granted," he said. "They're good servants for the city, as have been shown over the last couple of days, and be proud of them."

To see what you can do to help Toledo firefighters or the families of Machcinski and Dickman, click here.

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