Memorial is about lives saved by firefighters

Saturday's ceremony of enrollment at Mills Park was held at a memorial, but it really was about lives - lives saved by firefighters, lives dedicated to fire protection and prevention, and lives lost in the fire service.

Three Nevada firefighter's names were added to the walls of the Nevada Firefighters Memorial as representatives of fire agencies throughout the state attended the 1999 enrollment of honorees.

Plaques for Eugene Ottonello and Ralph Hawcroft were added to those of 38 Nevada firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty.

And a plaque honoring Lawrence Jacobsen, of Minden, whose 53 years of service as a firefighter has been complemented by over 37 years as a Nevada legislator, was added to five others on the distinguished service portion of the memorial.

Jacobsen and his wife, Betty, drove to the ceremony in a vintage Seagraves fire engine from the Johnson Lane Fire Department. He told the crowd that this was his wife's first ride on a fire engine - and that she accepted the offer a bit reluctantly.

The enrollment was the fifth annual observation held at the memorial installed at the park to record and honor all those who have died in the line of duty as Nevada firefighters. The list stretches back to Martin Panian, who was pumping a hand-pumped fire engine in Gold Hill in 1870 when he fell into a fire cistern.

The most recent firefighter's death marked with a plaque is that of Ottonello, who collapsed in smoke on November 1997 during a controlled burn in Nye County. Hawcroft died while en route to a fire in Reno in November 1928. Ottonello was 47 years old when he began experiencing difficulty breathing in smoky conditions during a prescribed burn Nov. 13, 1996. He collapsed at the burn site at Lockes Pond in Nye County's Railroad Valley and was given cardiopulmonary rescussitation at the scene by co-workers. He died in the ambulance on the way to an Ely hospital.

Ottonello was an assistant fire management officer for the Bureau of Land Management in Battle Mountain, where he had worked since 1992.

Hawcroft had been chief of the Reno Fire Department for nearly 18 years when he answered his last alarm on Nov. 12, 1928. He was responding to a fire at 549 Bell Street in his red roadster when it collided with a taxicab carrying another fireman to the same blaze. The chief's car spun through the air at the intersection of Fourth and West streets and landed on its side, pinning Hawcroft underneath. He died at St. Mary's Hospital 45 minutes later.

Hawcroft was a 35-year veteran of the RFD with service in various volunteer departments. It was during his term as chief that the RFD converted from horse-drawn to modern motorized equipment.

Lodi Smith, retired director of the Nevada Division of Forestry and now chairman of the board of the Nevada Firefighters Memorial, introduced Jacobsen as a man with a lifelong devotion to fire protection, firefighters and the community of Nevada.

Jacobsen has been a volunteer firefighter, emergency medical technician and ambulance driver with the Douglas County Engine Company for more that 53 years.

During more than 37 years as a member of the Nevada Legislature, Jacobsen has been directly responsible for, or played a role in, the introduction and passage of many laws to benefit the volunteer and career people in the Nevada fire service and the overall fire protection of the state.

Jacobsen's extensive legislative efforts have touched virtually every facet of fire service from training and communications to fire prevention and insurance standards for coverage of firefighters for heart and lung disease.

Jacobsen was instrumental in legislation that created the State Emergency Response Commission as well as bills dealing with the regulation of storage and transportation of hazardous materials and waste. He chaired the subcommittee that drafted the statewide master plan for fire protection, was the driving force behind funding a comprehensive study of wildland fire management in Nevada and introduces bills in 1991 creating a Nevada Seed Bank and in 1995 funding it. The seed bank provides seed to the Nevada Division of Forestry to use in rehabilitating areas burned by wildland fires.

Jacobsen said he cherished the honor he was receiving, then told a few of his many stories of personal firefighting experiences.

One, for instance, is that a lone pinion pine still standing on Duck Hill across from Lakeview is the only thing he and another fireman were able to save when a fire swept up from the old Eagle Valley Children's Home 50 years ago.

The event was interrupted briefly when Steve Frady, the Nevada Division of Forestry public information officer who was emceeing, fell ill as he began to read the Fire Chief's Prayer. Paramedics and EMTs from several fire departments stepped forward to assist Frady, who had suffered from the flu for a couple of days. Frady, a former reporter and editor at the Nevada Appeal, was still being evaluated at the Carson-Tahoe Hospital emergency room at 5 p.m.

Frady was taken to the hospital for evaluation, but his script was used by Smith and memorial treasurer John Holmes to complete the ceremony. A red rose was placed by a fireman's hat each for Ottonello and Hawcroft. White doves were released as a fire bell chimed in recognition of their sacrifices.


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