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Service honors fallen firefighters

The Baltimore Sun

The last bell rang for Racheal M. Wilson, the city fire department recruit who died during a poorly executed training exercise.

When it sounded yesterday during a ceremony outside a firehouse in Northeast Baltimore, Wilson's little girl, an 8-year-old named Princess, covered her face. And Wilson's fiance, dressed in black, stood with his hand on his daughter's shoulders.

"It is just like it was yesterday," said Priscilla Neal, Wilson's mother, as she wiped away tears. "I miss her. I mean, I really miss her."

The Wilson clan and other relatives of city firefighters who have died in the line of duty gathered with city officials for a brief ceremony to rename a portion the 4300 block of Mannasota Ave. "Fallen Firefighters' Way."

In the past two years, there have been two deaths in the line of duty. Five months before Wilson's death, a 19-year veteran, Allan M. Roberts, died battling a blaze in a Greektown rowhouse.

The ceremony was held outside Roberts' station, Company 26. An effort to rename that station in his honor failed in the City Council last year.

The two deaths have caused significant hand-wringing within the fire department. Investigations revealed that multiple safety standards were ignored in both cases. In Wilson's, a report commissioned by the mayor showed 50 safety violations.

At the ceremony was Acting Fire Chief James S. Clack, attending his first public event since starting work Monday. "We're going to try to learn from their mistakes," he said. "We want to honor the people who have paid the supreme sacrifice by learning from those mistakes so we don't have this happen again."

Added Mayor Sheila Dixon: "I know that it has been a very busy time this last year. It is my hope that the new name of this street will spur conversations for generations to come."

Members of the Fire Department's command staff stood behind the mayor and the fire chief.

Capt. David Goldman, who was Roberts' boss, said that he has been working for months to honor the firefighters.

One day he says he hopes to dedicate one wall of the firehouse as a memorial with names of all 160 city firefighters who have died in the line of duty.

Goldman also showed off a small plaque for the "Heroic Service Award" that Roberts was given posthumously. "That is the highest honor that a firefighter can receive," he said.

The plaque is on the driver's side of Truck 26 -- the vehicle on which Roberts rode.

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