Fire department memorializes late firefighter with new fire engine
By Billy Ludt
A newly purchased fire engine heads toward Austintown as firefighters Nick Reed and Lt. Dave Schertzer drive the vehicle home. Set between them on the dashboard is the helmet belonging to the late John Fritz.
Fritz died at 48 on June 27, 2016, while on duty. About a year later, the fire department purchased a new engine that bears Fritz’s name and his retired unit number, 181, on its side.
Assistant Chief Bob Williams said the decision to put Fritz’s name on the engine was a given.
“John was the kind of guy that if somebody needed help, he would be there,” said Jill Ferrone, Fritz’s sister.
She and her father, Richard Fritz, said John was constantly working on projects benefiting others.
“He would probably rather not have his name on there,” Richard Fritz said. He said his son wasn’t much for receiving recognition, and public service was in John’s nature. “He’d wanted to be a firefighter his whole life.”
He had walked to the Cleveland Clinic in full firefighting gear to raise money for spina bifida research – twice. The spinal condition affected his oldest daughter, Riley.
“He was a fireman’s fireman,” Capt. Tim O’Hara said. “He took the job very seriously, to the point where it wasn’t a job. It was a lifestyle.”
Fritz taught firefighting classes with O’Hara at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center as well.
The new fire engine made its initial public debut at the township’s Fourth of July parade with Fritz’s children riding inside. O’Hara said the crowd’s reaction to the fire engine was different from those in past years.
Instead of solely clapping, people in the crowd were pointing to the side of the truck, noting Fritz’s name.
“If your eyes don’t fill up with tears when you see it, you’re not human,” said township Trustee Jim Davis. “I knew John as his boss, but I know what he means to those guys at the fire station. That’s what gets me, just knowing what he meant to the community.”
Fritz was a black belt in karate, scuba diver and an adept tuba and sousaphone player, to the point that he couldn’t fit all of his music awards on his band uniform.
Richard Fritz, Ferrone and O’Hara all agreed John was serious at work, but playful by nature. When the lights are out in the kitchen and captain’s room of the fire department, glow-in-the-dark smiling faces are on the walls. They were Fritz’s doing.
The fire engine is still being outfitted, but Williams said it likely will be in service in August. The truck is equipped with a train horn, due to soundproof vehicle interiors.
“In 15 years someone is going to ask who he is, and we’ll be able to tell them,” O’Hara said. “Of all the accolades John received, dedicating the truck to him is the most important, at least I think so.”