Memorial stirs up passions

Fallen firefighters will be honored

Staff WriterMarch 30, 2005 

Josh Earley fell through the floor of a burning house in Charlotte in 2002 and died in a basement full of flames.

Sidney Jones picked the wrong way out through the black smoke of a Wayne County auto salvage fire in 1998, and Ricky Dorsey died in Durham County in 1996 when Hurricane Fran threw a tree across his truck.

Soon, their names will join 109 others in downtown Raleigh.

The N.C. Fallen Firefighters Association will break ground Saturday on a monument to honor those killed in the line of duty around the state -- some of the incidents date to the 1930s.

"Shucks, it's a long time coming," said Brandon Jones, a volunteer firefighter in Wayne County who lost his cousin, Sidney. "It's something that, you know, if you're having a bad day, you can go there."

The memorial features three life-size firefighters pulling a collapsed I-beam off a fourth man, and a series of plaques listing names of the dead.

Putting a sculpture that size in the middle of Nash Square has taken five years, and the estimated $250,000 cost is only about halfway collected, said Edward Brinson, president of the foundation. Choosing Nash Square, one of the city's oldest and least altered parks, has also stirred up bitter disagreement.

Members of the Raleigh Arts Commission protested before the City Council, calling the sculpture too literal and melodramatic, even schmaltzy.

That bitterness remains.

"The park is just going to be destroyed by this thing," said Lee Hansley, who has a gallery on Glenwood Avenue. "It is a monster. It is not creative. It does not require any imagination at all. It is not like the Vietnam Memorial (in Washington, D.C.), that just washes over you."

Cary sculptor Carl Regutti made the figures, the last of which is being cast in bronze.

The foundation hopes to have it up by the end of the year, once the foundation and surrounding brick walls are built.

Earley, the Charlotte firefighter, is the model for the figure holding the nozzle, said Raleigh Fire Capt. Andy Woodall.

"I actually modeled myself an expression he was trying to get," Woodall said, "but I don't consider it me. It was just a grim expression he was trying to get."

Woodall has been a major backer for the memorial since 2000 and traveled the state promoting it. He took a model of the sculpture to New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

There are 112 names now, he said, but the numbers will grow as new names are added and in the event any firefighter has been left out.

Unlike many memorials, Brinson said, Raleigh's will include firefighters who died of heart attacks or in crashes.

"Two of the leading causes," he said.

It is only due to a recent bill passed in Congress that firefighters who died that way were eligible for federal survivor benefits.

For some survivors, though, a monument brings slim relief.

"Some ways it does, and some ways it doesn't," said Brenda Dorsey, whose son died in Hurricane Fran. "You have mixed feelings, you know? Every time one of these ceremonies come up, it makes it all fresh again."

Staff Writer Josh Shaffer can be reached at 829-4818 or jshaffer@newsobserver.com.

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