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Comrades remember Marks 15 years later

Michael DiVittorio
| Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010

Munhall firefighters are remembering a fallen comrade who lost his life in a tragic accident while responding to a call 15 years ago.

On Aug. 5, 1995, at 1:27 a.m., seven firefighters from Munhall Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 were responding to a fire call at a row house along Scotia Way.

William "Spence" Marks, who served the borough company for more than 30 years, boarded a 1974 Mack pumper with fellow volunteers Ike Boehme, Dale Cannon, Robert Grandetty, Scott Maszle and Phillip Ostrowski and headed to the fire.

The truck crossed Eighth Avenue, jumped a curb and went airborne. It struck several parked vehicles on Martha Street before rolling over several times and coming to rest in a grassy field, which now is Big Lots parking lot. The crash took the life of Marks and sent the other six to local hospitals.

"We were just responding to the call," Ostrowski said. "We hopped on the truck and we were gone. It happened so quick. We came out of our station on Martha Street and it was over in the blink of an eye."

"Once that siren blows and you get in that truck, anything can happen," said Rich Votedian, the company's fire chief at the time. "We just move on and do our best. You have to. How something like that can happen ... not only with Marks, but it was the rest of the guys who (also) got hurt. It was devastating. There's so much going through my mind I couldn't even recall it, just worrying about everything.

"(Marks) was a wonderful guy. He did everything you asked him to do. He went to all the calls and did everything. He worked with the kids a lot down at the playground."

Munhall VFC No. 3 firefighters responded to the fire and extinguished it. Reports said it was electrical in origin.

Several local departments came to show their support after the accident, and more than 400 firefighters and 75 emergency vehicles participated in a massive funeral procession days after.

"Most of these firefighters never knew Bill, but when you're a firefighter, you are a member of one of the largest families in the world," Munhall VFC No. 1 Capt. Ray Hyland said.

Many tributes have been established in Marks' memory.

Tonight, the company will observe a moment of silence for Marks at its meeting, and there are plans for a small service or get-together in his honor.

Firefighters visit the crash site every year at this time to say pray at a cross that was set up as a memorial for Marks.

Another memorial stands at the fire station near the intersection of Thirteenth Avenue and Martha Street. The station houses a special locker that contains Marks' gear, and in 1997 the company dedicated its new truck to the fallen firefighter.

Ostrowski, who now is Munhall VFC No. 1 battalion chief, was a junior firefighter at the time of the accident and was in his first year at the company working with Marks.

"I knew Bill from when I was a kid," Ostrowski said. "So it wasn't just a year of knowing him. It was a year being in the fire (company) with him.

"In the summertime he would crack a hydrant for us to cool off. He was always there. He would give us a free can of pop if we helped him."

Marks also worked at the Carnegie Library of Homestead for 27 years, assisting with swim classes and activities in the gym. He also worked as a crossing guard for the borough.

"Bill always had a very special place in his life for children," Hyland said. "Bill would never deny any child the opportunity to sit on or in the fire truck or ambulance."

Marks also served as a leader and mentor to new firefighter recruits.

"Bill was very active with the company's yearly fire prevention training that was held at several of the local schools," Hyland said. "As new members entered the company, they quickly became friends with Bill, who could be found at the station just about every day."

Votedian and Ostrowski said this time of the year is particularly difficult for the fire company.

"Everything starts coming back to you. It's hard," Votedian said.

Firefighters were at the crash site Tuesday refurbishing the cross memorial.

"Just remembering the days before the accident, and you're always going to remember the accident," Ostrowski said. "You're always going to remember what happened with stuff like that. Being down there at that specific point in time and being ahead 15 years and being in the same spot we were standing in, it was a flashback.

"Around the anniversary of the accident, everybody takes the time to remember what type of guy Bill was and what he did for everybody. You don't ever want to lose who you are in the company. Bill was a unique individual who will definitely be missed by more than Munhall Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1. He will be missed by the community and others."

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