(Posted Oct. 28, 2016)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
In its 150 years, the London Fire Department has suffered only two losses of personnel in what can be termed line-of-duty deaths. Both occurred in 1929.
On Feb. 20, 1929, a fire ravaged two business blocks on South Main Street. John Riley, 36, was among the firefighters who fought the blaze, the worst London had seen since 1854.
Riley was knocked off the roof of one of the buildings due to an explosion caused by the fire. He fell two stories onto a wooden platform, breaking his back and several ribs. He was transported to Mount Carmel Hospital in Columbus where he remained until his death on March 26, 1929.
Prior to the fire, Riley had planned to resign his post at the fire department on March 1 to return to farming. He is buried in St. Patrick Cemetery in London.
Frank Farnsworth, a long-time London firefighter and constable, died March 24, 1929, after suffering what was thought to be a mild stroke at the fire station the day before.
According to news reports, he had complained of feeling ill for about 10 days. On March 23, he tended to his duties as caretaker at the post office, then reported to the fire station. Shortly thereafter, the paralysis hit. He revived somewhat, then left to recuperate. He was later found unconscious and was rushed to Mount Carmel Hospital. He did not regain consciousness. The official cause of death was meningitis.
Like Riley, Farnsworth had fought the fire on Main Street on Feb. 20. He is buried in Kirkwood Cemetery in London. He was about 65 years old.
Since the early 1990s, line-of-duty deaths have been defined as those in which a firefighter has died within 24 hours of his shift, no matter the cause.
Honoring the fallen
To date, no lasting tribute has been made to Riley and Farnsworth. The fire department plans to rectify the matter with plaques outside the station and possibly plaques affixed to the fire trucks.
The department also has submitted paperwork to the National Fire Academy, requesting that Riley’s name be added to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Md. (The department lacks sufficient documentation to submit Farnsworth’s name for inclusion.)
The Academy is expanding the memorial to include firefighters who died in the line of duty prior to 1981 when the memorial was built.