Project Roll Call

James McDonnell

  • Firefighter
  • Berea Fire Department
  • Ohio
  • Age: 47
  • Year of Death: 1949

In Memoriam of James Martin McDonnell by daughter Kathleen Dorsey.

Our father James, aka Jim, became a volunteer fireman in 1931 in the small city of Berea, Ohio. The city had about 5,000 people and was primarily a farming community. The Great Depression was still something to be dealt with; our dad was out of work so money was needed. There was an opportunity to become a volunteer fireman that paid a meager amount. They were paid two dollars for attending their meetings, and when called for a fire they received an additional two dollars. Eventually, our dad was able to find a job on the east side of Cleveland, about 25 miles from Berea. He worked shift-work for a company named Carey Machine as a machinist, but chose to still remain a volunteer fireman. At the time, the department only had two full-time fireman and everyone else were volunteers. There was a device down in the old sandstone quarry, nicknamed “Jumbo”, that would indicate the direction to travel in case of a fire with corresponding blasts of the horn. The night of April 19, 1949, Jumbo summoned my father to the city’s north end to the Berea Homes housing project on Ironwood Dr. These projects were temporary homes to returning servicemen employees of the adjacent Cleveland Bomber Factory which manufactured B-29’s for World War II. Many bystanders were also directed by Jumbo to the scene, chasing the fire trucks and police cars to see what the excitement was all about. Thus when our dad arrived, he had to park a distance away and run to the fire. Upon his arrival, he was assigned the position of second man on the hose. Some bystanders said he “lit up” when he went down (implying electrocution). Another commented that plastic was new and the toxicity of burning plastic was not known and he may have inhaled the fumes. Others still surmise a heart attack. No matter what the cause, he was gone. He left behind a widow, Cecila, an eleven-year-old Kathleen, and a four-year-old Mary Frances who would turn five the Monday after the funeral. Our mom became mother and father in a heartbeat. She raised her two daughters until they were young ladies and could be on their own. Our mother worked hard to keep all of us together and became not only our mom, but also our best friend.

This firefighter line of duty fatality occurred before the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial was built in Emmitsburg, Maryland. While this firefighter has not been officially honored at the Memorial site, there are plans to do so when resources are available.

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Memorial Wall

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