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Firefighters must postpone placement of memorial

September 10, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

A stone marker honoring fallen firefighters is to be delivered today to the Martinsburg Fire Department's substation on Queen Street, but firefighters still don't know where it will be permanently placed.

Firefighters had hoped to place the marker at their headquarters on Raleigh Street, which is on city-owned land.

But Martinsburg City Council members last week unanimously rejected the fire department's proposal to erect the memorial at that site because a union logo is engraved on the marker.

Firefighters learned Monday they cannot even store the marker at their headquarters while they decide where to permanently put it, said Scott Stroop, a Martinsburg Fire Department firefighter and president of the International Association of Firefighters, Local 805.

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The Queen Street substation is on land that is not owned by the city.

Council members heard the firefighters' proposal at a special city council meeting held on Sept. 4 to allow residents to discuss the city's new zoning ordinance. Discussion of the memorial stone was added to the agenda at the last minute, Baldwin said.

Speaking on behalf of council members, City Manager Mark Baldwin said they thought the idea of a memorial was a good one, but objected to the union logo. The city has a well-known policy of not recognizing collective bargaining and, therefore, not recognizing unions, Baldwin said.

Baldwin said firefighters should have known that and not presented a proposal for a memorial that contained an engraving of a union insignia.

"Nobody was asking anybody to recognize the union," Stroop said.

Engraved on the marker is: "America's Bravest, A Proud Profession, In Memory of Our Fallen Brothers and Sisters." The union logo is in the center.

The 18-by-24 inch stone was intended to pay tribute to firefighters killed in the line of duty throughout the nation, including those killed on Sept. 11, Stroop said. No Martinsburg firefighter has died in the line of duty.

"We've had firefighters (nationwide) die before that day, firefighters died that day (Sept. 11) and they'll continue to die," Stroop said. "That's the nature of the business."

Baldwin said the council's decision had nothing to do with the fact that, in June, off-duty Martinsburg firefighters picketed in front of City Hall, protesting wages.

Stroop who was the picketers' spokesman, said firefighters will not strike because that would leave city residents unsafe.

Stroop would not say Monday whether he believed the council's rejection of the memorial stone placement was connected to the picket.

"I don't know why they turned us down," he said.

Stroop said having the union insignia on the memorial was important, because most of the fallen firefighters probably were union members. With the exception of Chief Paul Bragg, all 26 Martinsburg firefighters belong to the union, he said. The department has one vacancy, Stroop said.

"To me it's kind of a sacred symbol" because only career firefighters and paramedics can join, Stroop said.

Stroop said the engraving did not mention Martinsburg because no local firefighters have died while on duty. Space was reserved should that happen, he said. He'd hoped to place the marker near the fire department's flag pole in time for the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11, he said.

Hammaker Memorials in Martinsburg donated the memorial.

Firefighters picketed in June because council members unanimously approved a nearly 22 percent raise for Martinsburg police officers, compared to a 5 percent raise for firefighters.

A starting Martinsburg police officer will receive $30,736 next year, up from the current salary of $25,287. Firefighters will receive $24,082, plus an additional $2,045 in guaranteed overtime pay. Firefighters work 24-hour shifts.

Although they voted against placing the stone at the fire department's headquarters, City Council members have supported several other Sept. 11 memorial events, including ones that involve fire and police officials, Baldwin said.

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