By Sunlen Miller
When ten-year-old Patricia Anne Wyne kissed her father goodbye forty years ago today, as she did each morning before he left for work, she didn’t know then it would be for the last time.
Her father, Tommy Turner, was among the 100 firefighters who responded to a four-alarm warehouse fire on June 26, 1971.
Turner was the only man to lose his life that day.
Today in Northwest, Washington, DC Turner’s life was celebrated and commemorated at his old firehouse – on 14th street – Engine 16, to mark the anniversary of his killing on the job.
The firehouse dedicated an old-fashioned emergency call box in his honor, displayed prominently on the side of the forestation in bright red, and gold. The station hopes that as people walk by they will read his name on the plaque, ask about his story, and be reminded of the daily contribution that firefighters make each time they risk their life in the line of duty.
Twenty-nine year firefighting veteran Michael Tippet was with Turner when he died, a fellow firefighter from the same company. They had fought many fires together over the years, but that fateful day would be Turner’s very last one.
“There hasn’t been a day that goes by since that happened that I haven’t thought about,” Michael Tippett said today, still emotional even years later.
A brick wall collapsed on Turner while he was fighting what seemed like a losing battle against an unwieldy curtain of flames, overpowering the majority of a multi-floor warehouse.
“its total grief, absolute grief and why. Why wasn’t this building demolished, why did this have to happen?” Tippett still wonders out loud today, noting that just weeks after Turner’s death the same empty warehouse that he had tried to save was demolished.
At the Engine 16 Firehouse today, Turner’s life was celebrated with family, friends, and his old firehouse buddies, now retired, coming out to pay tribute to his contribution to the city and to the history of their fire station.
“This story could have ended 40 years ago, Tommy could have sacrificed the way he did, been killed, they could have had a funeral and that would have been the end of it,” David Goldsmith Jr, a current firefighter in the firehouse said today, “ But it’s important to me that people remember our past. Not just the history of this Engine House, and the fire department in general but the people who were integral in making this fire house was it was.”
Friends and family described Turner as a “family man,” the firehouse cook and a practical jokester.
His daughter hopes that today’s ceremony will serve as a reminder for all who risk and serve.
“I would hope that they would think that there are heroes out there who risk their lives every day for us, and I would hope they would have more respect for the institution,” Wyne said, “I’m very honored and very proud.”