Toledo Fire and Rescue Memorial

Completion: Fundraising

Location: Toledo, OH

Description: Envisioned as both monument and passage, this memorial concept dynamically brings together both symbolism and narrative into a unified experience of remembrance. Situated within Chub DeWolfe Park adjacent to the Fire Department Station One Headquarters, the design features five thresholds or gateways set in meditative cadence, evoking the sequence of the five measured dashes that is repeated three to four times during the “Tolling of the Bell” - a time-honored fire service tradition performed at each service of a fallen firefighter. From a distance, the memorial is experienced as an inspiring gesture in the landscape. Clad in brass alloy panels suggesting the predominant use of the metal in traditional firefighting badges, gear, and equipment, the gateways are heroic in scale and proportion and iconic in their arrangement. As one approaches the memorial, this array frames a contemplative pathway that invites visitors to move through it and become part of the space. The semi-enclosed nature of the memorial pathway enables the visitor to feel as though they are in a sanctuary, yet still visually connected to the urban setting, creating a dramatic outdoor hall. Awash in a thin veil of water, the interior sides of each gateway are composed of semi-opaque glass panels that are etched with the names of fallen firefighters organized chronologically by fire station.

Recognizing and honoring Toledo fire and rescue personnel who have risked and given their lives for the purpose of saving others, these “First Water Walls of Honor” also create a sense of tranquility and suggest the importance of water as the elemental tool used in fighting fires. At night, lights back illuminating the water walls and intervening floor space poetically unify the gateway wall pairs while shafts of light dramatically extend up to the evening sky. 

Helping to define and reinforce the passageway experience of the memorial space as well as creating a physical divider to the adjacent street, a long concrete bench is photoetched with historical photographs taken from the archives of the Toledo Firefighters Museum. This historical timeline bench provides a functional seating element as well as an image and text based presentation of significant rescues throughout the history of the Toledo Fire Department. As a narrative timeline, a visitor can approach from either end of the memorial pathway, moving from the past to the present, or the present to the past. In contrast to a purely figurative sculptural design approach, where a historical moment is immutably “frozen” in monumental form, the historical images are photoetched on movable concrete panels that can be shifted, removed, and added over time, creating a story that is organic and changes throughout the years. This reinforces the continuity of history and the ongoing relationship that the Toledo Fire Department has with its city.