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December 10, 2009

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The Chestnut Hill Local
8434 Germantown Ave.
Phila. PA 19118
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55 years later, a fallen firefighter gets his due

Police stand at attention during a plaque dedication on Wednesday, Dec. 2 for Captain Louis Mortimer, a firefighter who died in 1955 while on duty at Chestnut Hill’s Engine Company 37. More than 30 members of Mortimer’s family attended, including his widow, Eleanor Mortimer, 88, seated, third from left. (Photo by Pete Mazzaccaro)

Fifty-five years ago, Captain Louis R. Mortimer, a husband and father of four, fell down a set of stairs at Chestnut Hill’s Engine 37 station on West Highland Avenue. He was taken to Chestnut Hill Hospital where he died from head injuries seven days later.

Since that day, his wife, Eleanor Mortimer has fought to have her late husband recognized in some capacity. Last week, on the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 2, Mrs. Mortimer was finally able to see her husband honored at a rousing ceremony attended by many local community members and well over 30 members of the Mortimer family, who came from as far as California to attend.

A wide consortium of city and local figures put the ceremony together. Locally, Hill residents Frank Galioto and Francis “Stretch” Hendrie, both board members of the Chestnut Hill Bocce Club, spearheaded an effort to raise close to $2,500 for the plaque and a luncheon afterwards for the Mortimer family.

Galioto learned of the Mortimer family request through his work at City Council – he’s the constituent service liaison for Councilman Frank Rizzo. Someone in the office of Councilwoman Marion Tasco, who has worked to honor fallen firefighters, told Galioto that the family was looking to raise money.

“So I took the idea to the Bocce Club’s board meeting and the guys liked the idea,” Galioto said.

Galioto and Hendrie pulled together money from organizations to which they have ties – The Bocce Club, The Germantown Republican Club, the Fourth of July committee  – and solicited the help of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, for which former president Tolis Vardakis helped raise donations for the cause

Their efforts produced a ceremony that included a bagpipe and drum ensemble, a firemen’s color guard and a healthy contingent of police officers, including eight members of the police Highway Patrol.

The ceremony, which lasted approximately half an hour, included messages from CHCA president Walter Sullivan; firemen’s union president Jerry Kots; the Rev. Robert Bazzoli, pastor of Our Mother of Consolation Church; the Rev. Cliff Culter, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and Mortimer’s daughter, Eileen Sichle.

Sichle recognized the efforts of all involved in finally honoring her father and noted the gratitude of her family – Mortimer has 13 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren, many of who attended. Mrs. Mortimer, now 88, sat in the front row of a seating area with her four children and extended family, at times crying.

“I’m really happy my Mom is here to see this,” Sichle said to the Local when the ceremony concluded.

Mortimer is one 285 Philadelphia firefighters who have died while on duty. Kots said there are 216 who remain unrecognized.

Galioto told the Local that he and Hendrie were so successful at organizing Mortimer’s dedication that they plan to organize more in the area, including one for a police inspector who died on Mermaid Lane in 1929.

 



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