Iron Fireman returns to Trenton City Hall
A monument that honored Mercer County fallen firefighters for more than 125 years before being vandalized and destroyed returns Sunday as Mayor Reed Gusciora hosts a rededication of the statue.
The 2 p.m. ceremony occurs outside City Hall at 319 East State St. and will include history makers, politicians and numerous firefighters, their family members and friends. It’s a day for recollections and opening history vaults.
Acting Fire Director Steve Coltre thought back almost 25 years and remembered a special visit he made to the East State St. bronze Iron Fireman figure.
“I remember my first day out of the Academy,” recalled Coltre about his 1992 arrival as a city firefighter. “Capt. Jeff Gore took us to that statue to instill in us the sense of brotherhood that firefighters have and to connect us with all the valiant men who came before us.”
Coltre called the visit a powerful moment, one that still remains vivid as he and other firefighters perform the public service of their well-respected profession.
“From that day forward,” continued Coltre, “we continue the history of brotherhood and tradition of being firefighters. That statue represents the ideals of committed service promised by city, county and firefighters throughout the country. So, yes, having the statue presented again after it had been vandalized and busted up in 2013, it’s a special day. It’s nice that the statue is finally returning to a special place in front of City Hall.”
The statue arrived in 1892 in front of the old City Hall on East State Street and Broad Street. The original monument stood atop a water fountain for pedestrians and water trough for horses. The fireman found a new residence in 1910 as City Hall moved to East State St.
April 2013 represented an extremely low point in city history when a man who will never have his name presented in any article here, toppled the statue..
The firefighter memorial featured a large stone base with plaques that honored every city and county firefighter who had given his life on the job. The cast iron statue of a firefighter, dressed in the 19th Century uniform of the city’s former volunteer fire brigade, and holding a baby delivered a powerful message.
Anyone can imagine the hurt felt by firefighters, their families and people who hold their profession in such high regard after the destructive incident, especially with a firefighter mission statement that commits brave men and women “to providing the fullest measure possible of fire and emergency services to the citizens of Trenton, and on a mutual aid basis to the surrounding communities. This service shall be provided with the utmost professionalism, respect, and compassion, with the intent of improving the quality of life and safety of all citizens of our city.”
“I don’t recall exactly where I was that day but I remember this feeling inside of my (gut). Something like that happens? It takes a little bit out of you,” Coltre said.
No doubt. So, today’s event offers an opportunity for not only the reinstallation of a statue but also the chance to honor firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice and those who boot up knowing the dangerous potential for any alarm.
It’s exactly what Coltre signed on for while growing up on Hancock St. Coltre had options.
“I took both tests for the Trenton Police Department and the Fire Department and fortunately did very well on each. In the end, I just had to make the decision between being a police officer or firefighter. Bottom line, I always knew that I wanted a life of service to the City of Trenton,” Coltre explained.
Memories abound as Mayor Reed Gusciora and Coltre will be accompanied by Ethel Collins and Lisa McNeese for the Iron Fireman unveiling. Collins attends as the widow of the late Lynwood Collins, Trenton’s first African American firefighter.
McNeese joins the special ceremony as the city’s first African American female firefighter.
“It took a little time to get the statue back, took some money but guys like Chief John Gribben and former Fire Director Dennis Keenan always promised the Iron Fireman would return. He’s finally back home,” Coltre said.