Saturday, October 4, 2003

Deaths of firefighters leave small town in pain

'Being a close-knit community helps'

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

NEW BREMEN, Ohio - Hours before a silo explosion killed John Garman, he left a message about fire prevention activities on the answering machine of a fellow firefighter.

Craig Schnelle jotted down the message, then erased it.

"I wish I wouldn't have, because that had his voice on it," he said.

This western Ohio farm town and its 32-member volunteer fire department were struggling to carry on after two firefighters were killed Wednesday in the blast at a lumber company that injured nine other people.

"We're hurting. We're overwhelmed," said Schnelle, adding that Garman once went two straight years without missing a single fire run.

Kenneth Jutte, 44, was atop a silo for wood shavings at Hoge Lumber Co. in nearby New Knoxville and Garman, 40, was in an aerial basket when the smoldering scrap exploded, blowing the top off the concrete structure and throwing them to the ground.

The silo was empty Friday and state fire marshal investigators were inspecting the inside, including the mechanism used to empty the shavings from the bottom, agency spokesman Bill Teets said. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration also is investigating.

Scott Albers, a fellow New Bremen firefighter atop the silo, survived after landing in a trash bin of scrap wood and cardboard.

"That's probably what broke his fall," said Schnelle, who arrived for the rescue effort.

Albers remained in good condition Friday at St. Rita's Medical Center in Lima.

A makeshift memorial of flower wreaths and potted plants has steadily grown outside the New Bremen firehouse, where black bunting hangs over the garage doors. Arrangements were sent by neighboring fire departments. A banner on one wreath reads, "In memory of lost brothers."

Mayor Robert Klein asked residents to fly flags at half-staff in the town of 2,900 about 50 miles north of Dayton.

"It is at these times that being a close-knit community really helps our healing process," he said.

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