Fallen heroes remembered as Philly's Police Week kicks off

The chilly rainstorm of Wednesday, May 4, seemed symbolically appropriate during last week’s Living Flame Memorial Service, held at Franklin Square Park near 6th and Race streets.

The service is an annual event that marks the start of Police Week celebrations here in Philadelphia.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day, and police officials attend National Police Week events in Washington, D.C., every year.

Locally, the week has grown into a full month of activities that begins with the somber memorial, held in honor of the men and women of the police and fire departments who have sacrificed their lives in service of the city.

“Every day, we worry about the safety of our police and fire personnel,” Mayor Michael Nutter told the gathered crowd, noting that since last year’s memorial event, there have been no deaths of an on-duty police officer or firefighter. “That doesn’t mean that there isn’t danger out there.”

Held at the Living Flame Memorial — a red, tripod-shaped sculpture fitted with a clear flame and surrounded by stones etched with the names of those who died in service to the city — the day allowed city representatives along with police and fire officials to join family members of fallen heroes in a memorial ceremony.

“Thank you for lending them to us,” Nutter told the families of the fallen police and firefighters. “Your loved ones did not die in vain.”

That day, the city remembered the service of one firefighter specifically, Joseph Dugan, who died on November 8, 1943, after suffering injuries while responding to a fire that engulfed a boat on the Delaware River.

He was selected for the honor as his name was recently added to the plaque of deceased fire personnel at Franklin Square Park. His family is currently working with the Fire Department to see a memorial plaque placed in his memory.

Dugan — grandfather of Philadelphia Municipal Court judge Pat Dugan — began his career as a firefighter in 1921. In 1926, he was selected to serve as one of the first firefighters in Rescue Squad 1, a unit trained to handle complex fires on railcars, boats, in explosions, subway accidents and collapsed buildings.

A Spring Garden resident — he lived with his family in a home along the 1900 block of Hamilton Street — Dugan served as a hoseman on Fire Boat 2, the “Rudolph Blankenburg,” which was stationed at Penn Treaty Park, along the Delaware River.

On March 8, 1942, Dugan was severely injured while being lowered into a hatch to battle flames aboard a burning boat on the Delaware River.

He died the next year due to injuries suffered in the accident.

After the memorial event, members of the Dugan family said that they appreciated the city’s support of their father’s service after so many years.

“We do remember him very well,” said James Dugan, the firefighter’s son. “He used to take us biking down Lemon Hill and he would take us to the zoo on off days.”

Dugan’s daughters, Margaret Dugan-Gagliardi and Patricia Dugan-McGinley, said their father was always a hero who helped those in need.

“Once, he even jumped into the Delaware River to save a dog,” recalled Margaret. “So, we had a pet dog growing up.”

Also, as members of the audience huddled under umbrellas, Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety, said that not only did the city strive to remember those who have died in service to Philadelphia, but the new mounted unit, set to return to service this summer, will be something of a living memorial to five officers who have died since 2008.

Gillison said the horses would “form a living bond with the officers they assist” and they would be named: “Stephen,” in honor of Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, who died in a shootout following a bank robbery; “Santiago,” after officer Isabel Santiago, who died after her patrol car was struck by a stolen vehicle, “Pat,” in honor of Sgt. Patrick McDonald, who was shot and killed after pulling over a vehicle, “Tiny Tim,” named for Sgt. Timothy Simpson, who died after an intoxicated driver slammed into his patrol car and “Johnny,” named after officer John Powlowski, who was shot when he intervened in a roadway dispute.

At the conclusion of the event, after those in attendance laid flowers for their loved ones and the mayor, Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey each laid wreaths at the memorial site, doves were released into the air.

John McNesby, president of the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said the event is an important annual memorial.

“It’s important to get together with the family members and show that they aren’t forgotten,” he said. 

Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmitman@bsmphilly.com