One year after tragedy, firefighters remembered for their sacrifice

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
A year after their deaths, Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell said he thinks about fallen firefighters Victor Isler and Justin Monroe every single day.
“I’m often reminded of their contributions to the community and to the fire department,” Parnell told the crowd gathered Saturday at the Salisbury-Rowan Firefighters’ Memorial for a service marking the one-year anniversary of the Salisbury Millwork Co. fire that claimed their lives. “I feel their presence constantly.”
Parnell said he thinks about the guidance Isler provided to rookie firefighters in the Fire Academy. Just before Saturday’s 8:45 a.m. service, he said Isler’s widow, Tracy, told him about a Charlotte firefighter stopping to tell her that Isler had been his instructor.
“I often think about the fact that Justin brought a baby into this world,” Parnell said. “Somewhere there’s an appropriateness to that that is just so right, and many, many other thoughts of these two great men fill my memories daily.”
Victor Isler and Justin Monroe “have been and will continue to be heroes to this community,” he said. “They made the supreme sacrifice while fighting a fire. What higher action can a man do? There is none.”
But Parnell said 40-year-old Isler and 19-year-old Monroe would not have wanted their fellow firefighters “to cry for them or to be somber or depressed, even downtrodden.”
“I feel that they would tell us to get on with it and remember them, remember their contributions and celebrate their lives. And I vow to do just that.
“I vow to trudge forward … and to keep this community and its firefighters safe.”
At 9:06 a.m. ó the time a mayday went out for the two firefighters last year ó Parnell called for a moment of silence in their memory.
Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz made mention of the contrast in Saturday’s beautiful weather from the cold and rainy day that the fire broke out at Salisbury Millwork ó “that horrible day when Justin and Vic gave their lives for the citizens of this city.”
Kluttz addressed Monroe’s parents, Lisa and Eddie, and Isler’s wife, Tracy, and their two children, Ryan-Ann and Vic Jr. “We keep you in our thoughts and prayers, and we always will,” she said. “We are so very sorry for your loss.”
Turning her attention to the large delegation of firefighters dressed in formal uniforms, the mayor said, “We know this has been a difficult year for you, and we also express our sympathy to you.”
But every day since the tragic fire, Kluttz said, “you have remained so strong as you have protected and served the citizens of this city, and we are grateful.”
The mayor also thanked the community for its outpouring of love and support.
“As we face the days ahead,” she said, “we know that Justin and Vic will remain in our hearts, and may their memory serve as a reminder that we must never take for granted how blessed we are to have men and women who are willing to serve and protect us every day.”
Kluttz concluded her remarks by declaring the flag at the memorial at the southern end of Chestnut Hill Cemetery be flown at half-staff in honor of Isler and Monroe.
Capt. Mike Spry and Engineer Bobby Burleyson, serving as Honor Guards, advanced and lowered the flag, which was to remain at half-staff for the rest of the day.
Parnell said Isler and Monroe and the firefighters injured in the fire ó Salisbury Capt. Rick Barkley, Locke Fire Department Chief Rusty Alexander and firefighters James Hall and Bradley McKnight ó are examples of “what bravery really is.”
“We’re all better for that,” he said. “They taught us friendship. They demonstrated brotherhood. They demonstrated the qualities that the fire service is built on.”
A total of 49 fire departments and many other emergency service agencies assisted the Salisbury Fire Department on that fateful day of March 7, 2008, when Isler and Monroe died in the line of duty.
Four of those departments ó Concord, Charlotte, Monroe and Mooresville ó returned Saturday to cover the fire stations during the public memorial service and private luncheon held at Salisbury Fire Station No. 1.
Parnell also acknowledged the loss suffered by Miller’s Ferry Fire Department, where Monroe started as a junior firefighter at age 14 and continued serving as a lieutenant, and the Spencer Fire Department, for which he also volunteered.
“Justin touched them in a way that was bone-deep,” he said.
“Folks, I can report that the brotherhood in Salisbury is strong,” Parnell continued. “The brotherhood in Rowan County, and the brotherhood in North Carolina is strong.
“The outpouring for our community and our department and our two families will never be matched anywhere, I’m convinced. It’s unprecedented …
“We lost two great brothers, but we will never, ever forget them.”
In his closing remarks, Parnell said, “I don’t know what more any of us can say. I know our pain is going to last for the rest of our lives. I also know our healing will increase for the rest of our lives.
“There is a burden to carry because we’re hurt,” he concluded, “but there’s many more things to do in the future, and we’re poised and ready to do that.”
Also as part of the ceremony, Battalion Chief Terry Smith read “The Firefighter’s Prayer.” Battalion Chief David Morris explained the significance of “The Bell” for firefighters, and Miller’s Ferry Chief Bobby Fox and Spencer Fire Chief Jay Baker performed the “Ringing of the Bell” service.
Capt. Rick Fleming accompanied the Monroe family to the memorial for the “Placing of the Wreaths,” while Capt. Tim Hurlocker accompanied the Isler family.
The opening prayer was given by Capt. Doug Stevens, and the closing prayer was given by Monroe’s uncle, Walt Ferrell, who is a firefighter with the Jerusalem Fire Department in Davie County. Afterward, everyone in attendance was invited to recite The Lord’s Prayer together.
Music for the memorial service was provided by bagpipers from the Charlotte Fire Department.Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.