'Sea of Blue' march honors fallen Jacksonville firefighters

Annual march honors 22 firefighters killed in the line of duty

By Crystal Moyer - Traffic/reporter, Ashley Harding - Reporter, Crystal Chen - Assignment editor/reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Hundreds of off-duty firefighters and rescue crews marched in their dress uniforms through downtown Thursday morning to honor fallen Jacksonville firefighters. 

The Sea of Blue Memorial March was a mile-long parade from South Hogan Street to Fire Station One, where the Fallen Firefighter Memorial stands with 22 names of men who lost their lives in the line of duty. 

People lined the streets to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice protecting and serving our city.

PHOTOS: Honoring fallen first responders with 'Sea of Blue'

"Every time those firefighters get on those trucks, there's always a risk they may end up on that wall," said Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters.

Wyse knows several of the firefighters whose names are engraved on the wall, including Karl "Klif" Kramer, 22, who died from heatstroke in 2005.

"Those are the names that, they knew those people personally," Wyse said. "That's why it's so important to us on that day to show respect."

At a ceremony that followed the march, the names on the memorial were read aloud and the pipes and drums played, followed by a 21-gun salute.

For some families, it was a somber moment as they remembered their loved ones, like Edgar Cowart, who died in 1986 responding to a water emergency. 

"My father was with the fire department for 33 years. He was an engineer," Jody Cowart said. "He loved his job and saved several people in the city of Jacksonville over the years. He was just really dedicated.”

During the ceremony, Mayor Lenny Curry proclaimed Nov. 15 Fallen Firefighter Memorial Day, and the department said it will continue the tradition of the parade every year. 

Remembering the Fallen

Henry J. Bradley was the first Jacksonville firefighter to die in the line of duty. Mr. Bradley was killed Dec. 16, 1885, when a blazing wall collapsed on him as he fought a fire that engulfed businesses, warehouses and wharves along several blocks of Bay Street in downtown. His death led to a movement among Jacksonville's insurance companies that had suffered losses in the fire to create a paid fire department. On July 15, 1886, the City Council created the Jacksonville Fire Department.

Sam L. Varnes was crushed to death under Engine 2 March 1, 1927, after being thrown from the apparatus as it skidded on the wet pavement and crashed into a pole at Eighth Street and Tallyrand Avenue while rushing to a fire.

Harry L. Graves was killed June 30, 1933, when the Station 4, Hook and Ladder Co. No. 2 truck on which he was riding was broadsided at Davis and Church streets by Fire Engine No. 7 rushing to the same fire. Mr. Graves, riding on the right running board, was directly in the path of the engine as it crashed. Six other firemen were injured, three seriously, in the department's worst crash in its history.

Jerman J. Williams was shot and killed March 21, 1934, while attempting to flag down a driver to keep him from running over a fire hose that was providing water to a house fire at Johnson and State streets. Ironically, Mr. Williams, the son-in-law of Fire Chief W.Q. Dowling, had taken the place of Harry Graves on Hook and Ladder Co. No. 2 at Station 4, rode in the same seat and even used his locker. Mr. Graves was killed in a crash involving two fire engines in 1933.

William E. Holloway was killed Dec. 24, 1943, in a collision with another automobile at Church and Ocean streets downtown as he was driving Fire Chief George E. Hare to a church fire. The collision caused the department vehicle to veer into a heavy pole, and Mr. Holloway, the chief's chauffeur, was pinned inside. Chief Hare also was injured in the accident.

Asst. Fire Chief James R. Romedy died of a heart attack Dec. 29, 1963, while attempting to rescue trapped guests from the 10th and 11th floors during the Roosevelt Hotel fire. Twenty one guests died in Jacksonville's deadliest fire, while 479 were rescued from the smoke-filled hotel.

Dillard D. Pinkston died May 22, 1967, of an apparent heart attack while reeling in a hose after extinguishing a garage fire on Mackinaw Street in Woodstock Park.

Arthur W. Hutt, a 15-year-old junior fireman with the Mandarin Volunteer Fire Department, was killed May 1, 1968, when he and a large sign he was holding down were blown off the back of a Mandarin Volunteer Fire Department truck on State Road 13. Firemen were taking the 4-by-6-foot sign advertising the department's annual fund-raising barbecue to the intersection of State Road 13 and Beauclerc Road.

Walter W. Flowers was killed Dec. 25, 1968, when he was thrown from Engine 13 after it was struck by a Florida East Coast train at an Atlantic Boulevard crossing. Engine 13 was en route to a Southside fire at the time of the accident, and Mr. Flowers had been riding on the tailboard. Three other firefighters were injured in the accident.

Lt. Newton Eugene Johnson was overcome by heat and smoke and died Aug. 6, 1970, when the roof of an A&P Supermarket at San Juan and Hershel streets collapsed while he was fighting a fire inside. It was his first day as a roving officer assigned to Engine 14. Johnson was posthumously honored as the Fireman of the Year.

Capt. Leon J. King Jr. died of an apparent heart attack Sept. 3, 1975, at the scene of a kitchen fire on Lotus Road. After the fire had been knocked down, King took off his mask and went back inside to help with overhaul work. He then walked outside and collapsed.

Glen A. Miley was killed Dec. 18, 1975, when he struck his head on the pavement after losing his balance and falling off a fire truck as it made a turn at Ribault Scenic Drive and Forrest Hills Road. Firefighters were responding to a minor heater fire on Ramsgate Street at the time. Miley was a volunteer firefighter.

Ronald H. Jones was struck by a car Sept 18, 1976, as he walked back to his car after helping extinguish a woods fire off 103rd Street. The volunteer firefighter died of his injuries.

Lt. Joseph F. Stichway was killed May 25, 1979, while attempting to rescue workers trapped in the hull of a burning oil barge at the Jacksonville Shipyards. Overwhelmed by gas fumes, Stichway fell off a 40-foot ladder as he was rushing to reach the workers and lead them to safety. He was posthumously awarded the Gold Medal, the fire department's highest honor. Twenty-one firefighters and six barge crewmen were injured in the fire.

William E. Albritton died of a heart attack Aug. 16, 1986, shortly after leaving work at Station 27.

Edgar A. Cowart drowned Nov. 6, 1986, when he was trapped under an overturned fire rescue boat that had struck a bridge piling while answering a distress call near the Hart Bridge. Marine 3 was responding to a call for help from a tugboat at the time of the accident.

Leon L. Benton died from a heart attack Dec. 27, 1990, after collapsing during a basketball game at Fire Station 1. Benton, who played on the department's basketball team, was working overtime at the time training for a state basketball tournament for fire department teams.

District Rescue Chief Roger H. Taylor died of a heart attack May 16, 2000, shortly after leaving the station. Taylor, a paramedic, was a member of the first class of firefighters to complete their training after Jacksonville and Duval County consolidated governments.

Lt. Glenn A. Rodgers died of a heart attack July 3, 2000, shortly after leaving work at Station 22.

Lt. Nolen A. Sauls died Aug. 7, 2000, of a heart attack shortly after leaving work at Station 28.

Recruit Karl Kramer died of complications from heatstroke May 28, 2005, nine days after collapsing during a two-mile training run at the Fire Rescue Training Academy. The son of a Jacksonville firefighter, Mr. Kramer was just two weeks away from graduating from the academy.

Neal Tarkington had more than dozen years on the job before he passed away October 11, 2008, at age 43, just a few hours after coming home from a busy shift at Fire Station 4. Tarkington is remembered for his attention to detail, a keen ability to mentor as well as his sense of humor.

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