Ontario Firefighters Honored

Updated: 10-02-2006 10:55:32 AM

LAUREN LA ROSE, CPThe Canadian Press(CP)

TORONTO (CP) - Dani Cholakis cupped her hand to her mouth and choked back tears as she traced the name of Toronto Fire Capt. Ian Gatehouse freshly chiselled into granite.

Gatehouse's name joins 22 others newly added to the Ontario Fire Fighters Memorial as dozens of firefighters, loved ones and dignitaries gathered at a memorial service Sunday to remember those who lost their lives in the line of duty.

''Ian was amazing,'' Cholakis said. ''He has two beautiful children with beautiful grandchildren and a wife that loves him very, very much, and he will be missed.''

She said she hopes the memorial serves as a testament of the sacrifice her late friend and others have made.

''Recognition for what he put into the service, and a place for his family and friends, a permanent place where he's there in memory, in stone.''

The names of 399 Ontario firefighters to die while carrying out their duties or from job-related diseases are engraved, starting with the first death recorded in 1848.

A life-size, bronze statue in the centre of the monument, which is about a block from the Ontario legislature, depicts a firefighter rescuing a child from a burning building.

Even in death, the fallen firefighters remain part of a provincewide family which gathered to honour them, said Ontario's Lt.-Gov. James Bartleman.

''It is fitting that today, as we remember the heroism of those that have died in the line of duty, we should also honour the courage of the living, the supportive families, and the heroic firefighters that don their uniforms and go to work each day to protect the lives and property of Ontarians.''

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty praised firefighters for the honour they bring to their profession.

''It takes a special kind of person to crash through the door of a building filling of smoke, to face chemicals as dangerous as they are invisible,'' he said.

''It takes a special kind of person who's prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice so that others may live.''

Ontario Fire Marshal Bernard Moyle said occupational diseases continue to take a tragic toll on the province's firefighters. He said enhanced prevention and education programs are needed to help firefighters understand the risks associated with their jobs and how to better protect themselves.

''We owe it to the spouses and partners, the children, the family and friends of those who have died,'' he said. ''Firefighters protect the public; we need to work harder to protect them.''

Moyle said the government, fire service and community must have a goal to create an environment ''where we will never again hear the sound of a chisel carving out another name of another firefighter.''

Jennifer Muir-Birtles was still in her teens when her father, George Muir, a 20-year firefighter with the North York Fire Department, died at age 48 in 1991 after a career exposed to such hazards.

''He never met his grandchildren because of that,'' said Muir-Birtles, who attended the ceremony with her sister, Kathryn Deline.

Muir-Birtles brought her infant daughter and young son for their first visit to the memorial.

''It's such an honour to have him recognized and being remembered for the ultimate sacrifice that he paid for the lives of many people.''