At the corner of South Second and Chestnut streets in Youngwood, firefighters will pause to remember, maybe shed a tear and honor one of their own next weekend.
On Dec. 7, the Youngwood Fire Department will dedicate a memorial outside the borough fire station to E. Jeffrey “Lance” Wentzel, a volunteer firefighter who died while involved in a search. The ceremony will begin at 2 p.m.
“I think it’s nice we are having this, but I wish we never had to put it up,” said Lloyd Crago, borough fire chief and a longtime friend of Wentzel.
“This is for the fire department. This is what we wanted to do for him, to honor him,” he added.
Wentzel, 57, died March 22 after being struck by a train in North Versailles while he was searching with others for a missing woman. The Allegheny County medical examiner’s office ruled his death an accident.
Wentzel, a firefighter for 35 years who volunteered at Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, personified what is best in a first-responder, company truck Capt. John M. Storey Jr. said.
“They do it because they care,” Storey said, choking up as he spoke. “Lance was one of those people. He tried to make a difference. He epitomized everything good in being a first responder.”
In 2013, 97 firefighters lost their lives in the line of duty in the United States, including 41 volunteers, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Sixty-four more firefighters died in 2012, including 30 volunteers.
“He did this (gave his service) because it needed to be done, not because he wanted recognition,” Storey said.
Wentzel’s picture is on the 5-foot-tall black granite memorial, which will remain covered until the dedication. A walkway leads to the monument. Two benches, dedicated to past department firefighters and auxiliary members, face the memorial.
Wentzel’s widow, Judi, and family have been invited to the dedication, said Crago, who is helping to plan the program.
Fire company officers will offer tributes to Wentzel. State Fire Commissioner Edward Mann will attend the dedication. Fire departments from across the area have been invited.
John M. Storey Sr., Youngwood Fire Department chaplain and a dedication speaker, said he will encourage those attending not to dwell on the tragedy, but to recall Wentzel, to “remember what he did, what he tried to accomplish.”
Like Crago, the elder Storey grew up with Wentzel.
“He was always there for everybody,” Storey said.
Donations helped pay for the memorial, and they are still being accepted by the fire department, the fire chief said.
“The cost wasn’t an object for the fire department,” Crago added. “We wanted to honor him no matter what the cost was.”
Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or [email protected].