NEW BREMEN — When the tent was full, people stood in the rain dedicate a stretch of highway to New Bremen’s fallen volunteer firefighters Kenneth Jutte and John Garman, who died 10 years ago, on Oct. 1, 2003.
Retired New Bremen Fire Department Assistant Chief Steve McDermitt said the rain reminded him of baptism, seeing the event in the rain, then connecting that to the two deaths, he was reminded of the term “baptism by fire.”
Jutte and Garman were called to duty as volunteer firemen to provide mutual aid for another fire department during a fire at Hoge Lumber. The unexpected explosion of a silo killed both men, McDermitt said.
Joseph Jutte, younger brother to Kenneth, was working at Crown when he got the call to meet his family at the hospital in St. Marys.
In the days following the death, Jutte said he was surprised by the outpouring of community support and from the other firefighters. He said he was overwhelmed by what people did for the funeral.
“It was beautiful,” Jutte said of the trucks and firemen attending the funeral.
New Bremen Mayor Jeff Pape wrote that a village never wants to hear that kind of news, but it changed the way the fire department was viewed and appreciated by the community.
“There was a tremendous outpouring from communities, neighboring departments and from across the state,“ he said. “They were both very good men that we miss yet today.”
In the weeks that followed, McDermitt said it was difficult for firefighters to go back to everyday life responding to the calls for help.
“It’s still a little hard to go,” he said. “But when the bell goes off, someone needs help. I think all the fire fighters would say its hard but someone needs help.”
State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers, a former volunteer firemen, said he knew all firemen sacrifice, but he has a special admiration for volunteers.
“How many dinners are ruined, how many holidays cut short,” he said.
But volunteers, Flowers said, are the primary firefighters for 70 percent of the state.
State Representative Jim Buchy from the 81st District of Ohio said the right to have a highway named after a person is reserved for American heroes.
“It is obvious that right there at the top of the list are the two men we honor today,” Buchy said. “They were passionate about their work as firefighters,” he said. “Everyone here who wears the uniform knows that whenever they’re called, whenever they put that fire fighting gear on there is a risk it could end in the supreme sacrifice.”
State Senator Keith Faber for the 12th District of Ohio called the dedication a time to look forward and build on sacrifice. He asked people to take a moment when they drove that stretch of highway to remember the men and their families.
Jutte said his brother always wanted to be a fireman.
“He always wanted to be like dad, and he always wanted to be gung ho with whatever he did,” Jutte said.
Jutte’s brother sought out training for the most dangerous situations, part of the way he threw himself wholeheartedly into everything he attempted.
“They’re a rare breed, firefighters,” Jutte said. “I think he liked being with other fire guys ... He was not afraid to do the craziest stuff. I think he would be well honored. I think he would also be humbled.”
Jutte said rain for the dedication was the kind of thing his brother might have sent.
“He always was a troublemaker,” Jutte said. “Maybe he still is.”
The dedication ended with a blessing by the Rev. Tom Mannebach.
“Remind us on this roadway and all roads we travel, You alone are our final destination,” he said.