Memorial honors fallen firefighters

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 7, 2011

By Mark Wineka
The days — three years apart — were so different.
In 2008, the morning was rainy, cold and filled with fire, smoke and tragedy.
Today, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Sun drenched the Firemen’s Memorial site off South Main Street while memories of Victor Isler Sr. and Justin Monroe filled the hearts of their families and friends gathered for a memorial service.
Lisa Monroe said her son, Justin, who was 19 when he died in the Salisbury Millwork fire, was a good person with a big heart, sweet spirit and smile.
“He loved everybody, and he loved being a firefighter,” she said.
Monroe said part of her heart broke and died that morning three years ago “because we loved him so much.”
Monroe has gotten through the three years since Justin’s death with the help of family, church, God and knowing people in the community cared — and still do.
She said so many people have still not been thanked for all the support they gave her family.
Michael Isler, brother of Victor and a retired lieutenant with the New York Police Department, said though his family lost Victor it gained another family through the people of Salisbury and the Salisbury Fire Department.
Speaking after the morning ceremony, Michael Isler sent his family’s love and prayers to the community and everyone who puts on a fire service uniform.
“Not a day goes by that we don’t think of him,” Michael said of his brother.
Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell said the goal since the March 7, 2008, loss of Isler and Monroe has been to make sure their deaths were not in vain.
He said the department has made several changes and improvements in equipment and training — from new portable radios to a refocusing on safety procedures, such as making sure a safety chief is always inside the command vehicle.
“We teach the lessons we learned from the millwork fire,” he said, adding they are part of presentations made statewide.
The fire was unusual in that the Salisbury department seemed to have it contained to an office area when a firewall collapsed and a flash fire occurred that trapped the hose team of Isler, Monroe and Capt. Rick Barkley.
Barkley was seriously hurt, and still deals with his injuries today, Parnell said, but he remains dedicated by conducting fire safety inspections and fire scene investigations.
His passion for fire service has not diminished, Parnell said.
The chief described Monroe, who also volunteered and/or worked for the Miller’s Ferry and Spencer fire departments, as a rising star among Salisbury firefighters and a future fire service leader. He was brave, honest and humble, Parnell said.
He described the 40-year-old Isler as a teacher and coach within his department — someone who moved his family from New York to North Carolina so he could become a full-time firefighter. (He was past the entry age in New York.)
Isler showed younger firefighters the commitment required and always responded to tasks with the assurance of, “No worries, no worries,” Parnell recalled.
Isler’s widow, Tracy, and his children, Victor Jr. and Ryan-Ann, attended the memorial service, along with Monroe’s parents, Eddie and Lisa.
Tracy Isler and Lisa Monroe exchanged a long hug toward the end of the ceremony, and lines of firefighters and friends greeted them individually.
Members of several county fire departments, Rowan County Emergency Medical Services, Salisbury Police, city officials and city staff also were on hand.
The service included a lowering of the U.S. flag to half-staff, the traditional sounding of the bell to mark the loss of firefighters and the placing of a wreath in honor of Isler and Monroe.
Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz described the day three years ago as “one of the darkest days in the history of the city of Salisbury.”
“May we never take for granted the blessings of our heroes,” she said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.