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William "Bill" Irwin Dieterich

November 07, 2009|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about William "Bill" Irwin Dieterich, who died Oct. 24 at the age of 85. His obituary was published in the Oct. 26 edition of The Herald-Mail.

Back in the 1960s, the idea of 16-year-olds riding on firetrucks in Hagerstown wasn't very popular. Some companies banned them all together.

But William "Bill" Dieterich made a public stand in favor of the controversial issue.

"I heard him say that these kids are the future of this fire department and every company should welcome them," said C. Kingsley Poole, a veteran firefighter who is a regional coordinator for the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute.

The Antietam Fire Co. on Summit Avenue was the first company that allowed the 16-year-olds to join as probationary members. Kingsley's friendship with Bill started then and grew stronger through the years.

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Speaking at Bill's funeral service, Kingsley described him as a "legend in his time."

With no practical heritage in firefighting, Bill nonetheless loved the fire service at an early age. His father was a railroad engineer who often would take his son up to the Western Enterprise Fire Co. when steam engines still were in service, said longtime friend Justin Mayhue, currently a battalion chief with the Hagerstown Fire Department.

"Bill would ask a lot of questions," Justin said. "He had a great recall of people and events all his life."

That quality came in handy for Justin when he embarked on his literary sideline, which spawned three books about the Hagerstown Fire Department.

"I would always go to him for information," Justin said. "Bill knew the drivers from the horse-drawn days and had great stories to tell."

Kyd Dieterich, Bill's oldest son and now a battalion chief, recalled how his father worked 24 hours on and 24 hours off in those early fire department days.

"That meant that if the other person was off sick or on vacation, dad would work around the clock until that person was back on the job," Kyd said.

Kyd and his brothers, Robbie and Vinson, all were exposed to the firefighting lifestyle at an early age. All three joined the fire service over the years.

"We had three monitors in the house," Kyd said, referring to the Dieterich family home on Beverly Drive.

Bill first joined Antietam in the early 1940s when it still covered the South End of Hagerstown.

"I got to know Bill in the late 1950s when I was a volunteer at the new South End Fire Co. on First Street," longtime friend Tom Cochrane said. "We talked about World War II and the fire department and became friends."

Tom said Bill taught him a lot about old firetrucks.

"Our friendship was forged over a lot of shared thoughts," Tom said. "We were kindred spirits."

One particular Hagerstown firetruck Bill loved was a 1948 American LaFrance that was sold to the Mount Aetna Fire Co. in 1969. Kyd bought the truck in the 1980s and was restoring it for his father.

That truck was the one Bill used to operate in his younger firefighting days and sometimes would drive home to take Kyd and Robbie for a ride. The boys were the envy of all of their neighborhood friends when that happened.

"It wasn't finished, but it was running," Kyd said. Unfortunately, Bill died before he got to fully enjoy the truck.

Vinson, who is a lieutenant in the fire service in Loudoun County, Va., said his father wasn't all about the fire department.

"He had a love for the outdoors, hunting and fishing, and being with friends and family," Vinson said.

Justin pointed out that Bill also was a devoted member of the Civil War Roundtable.

"When I became a guide at Antietam National Battlefield, Bill would be my tourist," Justin said, peppering him with questions for which he needed to know the answers.

Bill left the fire service in 1959 after nine years. He joined the Hagerstown Signal Department and remained there until he retired in 1987.

He remained committed to excellent fire service, maintaining the city's Gamewell system of fire alarm codes at top efficiency. Years before cell phones and pagers, there were fire horns at Hagerstown City Hall, Western Enterprise and South End to alert volunteer firefighters to the location of fires.

In Bill's honor, one of those horns was reactivated at his funeral.

"We got it working to signal two taps, which means firefighters have returned from a call," Justin said.

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