Wednesday, October 8, 2003

New baby the living legacy of a hero

Firefighter father died in March

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Sakina Devereaux, who was engaged to firefighter Oscar Armstrong III, with their 7-week-old daughter Imani Olivia Armstrong.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
COLLEGE HILL - This baby came into the world seven weeks ago, the daughter of a Cincinnati firefighter killed doing his job.

The little girl's name, her mother thought, should be something that spoke to all the good that has come to the family in the months since the death in March of the father she'll never know. Constant offers to do household chores. Checks in the mailbox from people the family never met. A fire-station baby shower that ended with four carloads of presents.

They were months that showed Oscar Armstrong's family that there are a lot of good people in this world. So the tiny little treasure in pink with barrettes in her curly black hair is Imani Armstrong.

Imani, the final night of Kwanzaa, means faith.

Imani and her brothers, Isaiah, 6, and Oscar IV, 5, will be on Fountain Square at noon today to hear their dad honored at Cincinnati's annual firefighter memorial ceremony. He was the first Cincinnati firefighter to die in the line of duty in 22 years.

Oscar Armstrong
"You watch the news every day and you think, 'This world is screwed up,' said Sakina Devereaux, 24, Imani's mother and Armstrong's fiancee. "But something like this happens and all of a sudden you're finding baby presents on your porch from people you don't even know. You have no idea how that feels."

It's that kind of support that restored her faith in people and helped get her through the seven months since Armstrong's death in a flashover at a Bond Hill kitchen fire. She was 18 weeks pregnant then. They had known each other a decade - since they met on a Metro bus on their way to Hughes High School. He was the funny guy who'd sit in the back and crack jokes.

Devereaux wants the community to know she and the children are "definitely going to be OK."

"People don't believe me when I say that, I don't think,'' she said. "But I feel like I have children and responsibilities and I have to deal with them. And I'm doing that."

Oscar Armstrong's funeral
Photo gallery, WCPO video and Enquirer reports
Isaiah talks about his dad at weekly counseling sessions at school. He wants to be a firefighter too, but also a police officer and a construction worker. Devereaux went back to school when Imani was three weeks old, to the registered nurse program at Christ Hospital. She'll finish in January.

She's OK financially. She gets monthly checks from workers compensation and the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund. All three children, if they choose an Ohio public college, will go for free. She's still waiting on the biggest benefit - $262,100 from the federal government, to be split among the three children. That will come after the investigation into Armstrong's death is finished.

She hopes the investigation - a preliminary one indicated a hose was kinked, preventing water flow - won't point a finger at anyone.

"Everyone's in enough pain,'' she said. "I don't think adding to that is fair. And to me, it doesn't make a difference. It was his time to go."

She'd like to start paying back some of the tremendous support she has drawn, maybe by talking to the pregnant wife of Delhi Township soldier James Wright, killed last month in Iraq. Devereaux knows what it's like to look forward to having a man's baby, only to have to do it alone after his death.

She brought a picture of Armstrong to the delivery room.


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