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Fallen heroes

Melissa Topey • Apr 20, 2015 at 11:23 AM

At age 31, the life that James Dickman always wanted was well underway.

At home, he was the husband of Jamie, and the father of two children: his 3-year-old daughter, Paige, and his infant son, Grant James, born Christmas Eve.

At work, he had finally made it. About five months ago, the 10-year veteran of the Perkins Fire Department landed a job at the Toledo Fire Department, a longheld goal. “One of his goals was to be with a large city fire department,” Perkins fire Chief Keith Wohlever said.    

Dickman had completed Toledo’s required fire academy last year and had been working as a Toledo firefighter since September. His formal graduation ceremony was scheduled for next month.

“We were just texting a couple days ago,” Perkins assistant fire Chief David Murphy said. “He was asking if I was going to attend his graduation on Feb. 7”

That day will never come.

Dickman and fellow Toledo firefighter Stephen Machcinski, 42, suffered fatal injuries Sunday afternoon while battling a fire at a two-story, six-unit apartment complex in North Toledo. There were residents inside the apartment at the time, and Machcinski and Dickman were searching for anyone who may have been in the building, according to the U.S Fire Administration.

As they searched for victims, however, the two men “signaled a Mayday,” according to the fire administration. Firefighters with the specialized Rapid Intervention Team grabbed hoses and fought to enter the back of the apartment, searching frantically for several minutes before they located the two fallen firefighters.

Toledo fire Chief Luis Santiago told multiple news organizations it appears the two men became disoriented inside the home. When firefighters rescued Machcinski and Dickman, both men were in cardiac arrest. They were later pronounced dead at a Toledo hospital.

The deaths strike a massive blow to local firefighters, many of whom worked alongside Dickman for years.

“He had high moral value, high dedication and integrity,” Wohlever said Monday morning.

“He was what a firefighter is”Dickman was hard-working, energetic and upbeat. “I had complete confidence in his skills,” Perkins firefighter Steve Reiderman said.

When he worked for Perkins, Dickman frequently came up with new and innovative ideas to improve safety. He was protective of his community and his fellow firefighters, and he often researched new places to secure grant dollars.

At the fire station, he was a jokester. It wasn’t uncommon to find a CPR dummy in his cot, or in another person’s cot, Reiderman said.

On Monday, in show of solidarity, several Perkins and Sandusky firefighters drove to the Toledo apartment complex. “Everybody is in shock,” Wohlever said. “We lost one of us. He was no longer with us, but we lost part of ourself” Tony Lewis, Dickman’s childhood friend, recalled growing up with Dickman in Sandusky. 

Lewis, Dickman and several other friends attended the same church as children, and they spent many summer nights playing pool or jamming in their rock band, Blemish. “Jamie played guitar” Lewis said. “I played bass” But when Lewis thought of his friend, the firefighter, he said there’s no mistaking what drew Dickman to the job.

“He was a kind-hearted person, always trying to help people, make people smile,” Lewis said. “That was part of what drew him to being a firefighter”

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