Orlando firefighter memorialized 50 years after dying in line of duty

Ceremony occurs same day as two fire engine crashes in Orange County

By Anna Johnson - Digital Journalist

The memorial for John Lewkowicz. (Credit: WKMG photographer Tee Taylor)

ORLANDO, Fla. - John Lewkowicz was 29 and had served as a firefighter at the Orlando Fire Department for less than a year when he was killed in 1969.

Feb. 10 marks 50 years since Lewkowicz's death while in the line of duty. The firefighter was on his way to a house fire when the engine he was driving was struck by a flatbed truck, which flipped the engine and threw Lewkowicz onto the street. 

"I will always remember firefighter Lewkowicz as part of the OFD legacy," Orlando fire Chief Roderick Williams said during a speech commemorating Lewkowicz's life.

OFD officials came together to honor the fallen firefighter Sunday. The department's band played to open the ceremony, which was held at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater's intimate Mandell Theatre. The honor guard presented the colors.

Coincidentally, the ceremony fell on the same day that two fire engines were struck by vehicles in Orange County. One of the crashes resulted in injuries sustained by both firefighters and the civilians involved.

The eerieness of the coinciding dates was not lost on Lt. Davis Odell, who spoke in the ceremony.

"It is far more dangerous and there is a high percentage of us getting hurt or killed on the interstate than there is in a house fire or any other event that we are often dispatched to," Odell said.

The firefighters involved in Sunday's crash suffered only minor injuries, but they have now joined Lewkowicz in the ranks of rescuers who have been hurt while on the job.

"Fortunately, our firefighters are all OK today. They're all contemplative of the fact and recognize that today is the Lewkowicz memorial. I just want to put that into perspective," Odell said.

Lewkowicz was the second member of the Orlando Fire Department to die in the line of duty. Officials were unable to locate any surviving members of Lewkowicz's family to attend the memorial, but a crowd of both active and retired firefighters attended in their stead.

"I don't think there's ever closure, but I do think it's our duty to never forget," Odell said.

According to Williams, showing up for those in need and for those who have fallen alike is just what firefighters do.

"This is all about serving and sacrificing what we have as firefighters to serve our community," he said.

John Lewkowicz. (Credit: WKMG photographer Tee Taylor)

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