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Frank Gray

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Frank Gray | The Journal Gazette
Posters made by schoolchildren accompany a schedule listing firefighters who have stood watch for their fallen comrade.

Firefighters stand watch as a tradition in practice

Not long after a fire truck crashed on Hillegas Road on Sunday night, killing Washington Township volunteer firefighter Mark A. Haudenschild II, another firefighter was assigned to remain with Haudenschild's body.

It was early Monday before Haudenschild's body was moved, taken by a hearse to the morgue at St. Joseph Hospital. On the trip from the crash scene to the morgue, fire engines accompanied the hearse.

At the morgue, other firefighters appeared. They weren't permitted into the room where Haudenschild was taken, but they remained outside the door.

It was a tradition in practice.

When facing danger, firefighters work in pairs. They have each other's backs, and a firefighter will never be left behind. That Haudenschild had died on Sunday night made no difference. Someone would stand watch with Haudenschild 24 hours a day until he is laid to rest.

He is never to be left alone.

Late Monday morning, Fort Wayne Fire Department Capt. Andrew Pfeiffer came to the morgue in dress uniform and stood at attention outside the door of the room where Haudenschild's body lay.

The door where Pfeiffer stood was across the hall from the radiation lab, and people exiting the lab would give him strange looks and ask what he was doing.

Standing watch for a fallen firefighter, he would tell them.

Pfeiffer would remain there until the afternoon, when Haudenschild's body was placed in a Washington Township ambulance, driven by fellow firefighters, and escorted by fire trucks and other emergency vehicles to D.O. McComb Funeral Home on Lake Avenue.

At the funeral home, more firefighters were present, sometimes working in shifts, to stand watch outside the room where Haudenschild's body was taken.

The time doesn't matter. Twenty-four hours a day, until Haudenschild is laid to rest, someone will be with him.

It's tradition. He is not to be left alone.

At the Washington Township firehouse, several sheets of paper are taped to the back wall of the firehouse. It is a list of every hour that will pass until Saturday afternoon, when Haudenschild will be laid to rest.

All of the slots are filled.

For every hour between now and Saturday afternoon, some firefighter from some department will be on hand to stand watch with Haudenschild, no matter what.

The calling for Haudenschild will be on Friday, and during that time, two firefighters in dress uniform with white gloves, one at the head of the casket and one at the foot, each holding an ax, will stand watch.

When calling ends and people leave, the firefighters will remain, all night. Haudenschild will not be left alone, not until Saturday afternoon when he is laid to rest at Riverview Cemetery near Churubusco.

It's tradition.

In memoriam

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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