The Heroes Among Us
David Freund, Chief Leadership Officer

It was a normal February night in 1939, and the city of Syracuse was mostly quiet. The patrons who had visited the Keep Restaurant were long gone and probably all at home sound asleep. Thankfully the Keep Restaurant was the only tenant in the building at the time. Around 2:00 am, the fire alarm sounded, and crews were called out to the East Genesee Street location. Thanks to their timely arrival, the fire, known as The Collins Block Fire, was extinguished by 4:00 am, and the crews were entering their clean up phase. Assistant Chief Charles Boynton and Lieutenant David Lavine were inspecting the third floor’s damage when, without warning, the cellar ceiling collapsed. As Lavine began to slip into falling timbers, Boynton reached out to grab his friend to no avail. Lavine, along with seven others, were quickly buried in the waterlogged debris. A frantic rescue effort ensued as teams worked to free the moaning men.

Just before 10:00 am, the front and side walls collapsed into the cellar, and Chief Edward Gieselman called off the search with these chilling words, “Since the falling of the rest of the walls, all possible hope has been abandoned. The men are dead.” Their rescue efforts transitioned to recovery efforts as upwards of 10,000 people stood vigil in the frigid February air. Forty-five members of the American Legion stood nearby with hot coffee and donuts for the crews who worked into the next day.

Three days later, Assistant Chief Boynton died of a heart attack. In the Syracuse Herald were these words, “Men and women of imagination, who can conjure up in their minds the picture of this experienced firefighter with his faltering health fighting to get his men out alive after the Collins Block had collapsed, then struggling for days to reach them, finally dying of an overworked, broken heart, may get just a glimpse of what heroism, devotion and self-sacrifice really mean.” The monument to these nine fallen men, along with 36 others who made the ultimate sacrifice for strangers they never knew, sits on the east end of what is known as Fayette Firefighters Park in Syracuse, NY.

When we are children, we look up to and admire these men and women. As we age, some of us decide to join their ranks as professionals or volunteers. For the rest of us, those whom they serve, too quickly forget that daily they stand at the ready to respond when the alarm sounds—not thinking about their families, but ours. Not thinking about their safety, but ours. At the Herald on February 7, 1939, the writer had it correct; when we look at the life lived by Assistant Chief Boynton, we can get a glimpse of what “heroism, devotion, and self-sacrifice really mean.” Servant leadership at its finest.

Let’s take the time to seek out those in our community, our businesses, and our family that serve as professional and volunteer firefighters and let them know how much we appreciate them. They truly are Heroes Among Us.

If you would like to hear more about this monument at Fayette Firefighters Park, please join Marisa Norcross and me for Episode 192 of The Next Page Podcast.

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