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Sandy's only fallen firefighter honored

State memorial remembers Walter Duncan, 137 others who died in the line of duty
by: Marcus Hathcock, Walter Godfrey Duncan is buried at the Firhill Cemetery on the north side of Highway 26 near University St.

If the Sandy Police Department and the Sandy Fire District ever decide to build a joint facility, there's no doubt in Police Chief Harold Skelton's mind whose name it should bear: Walter Godfrey Duncan.

But while a combined police-fire building is but a pipe dream now, the 1930s-era Sandy resident has already been honored on the Oregon Fallen Firefighter Memorial, which was dedicated Sept. 9 in Salem.

Information about Duncan is spotty, and there are no known photographs of him available. But what we do know, according to historical records, is that he was a public safety superman.

Duncan was the city of Sandy's town constable, the equivalent of a police chief, and the department's sole officer. Although he had his hands full policing the burgeoning town's citizens, he also gave of his time and energy as a volunteer firefighter for the Sandy Fire Department.

That's about all we know of the man, except for the fact that he is the only public safety official in the city's history to die in the line of duty.

At around midnight Jan. 24, 1934, Duncan heard the siren blaring from the Sandy fire station. As he had done so many times before, he dropped what he was doing and headed toward the sound.

But it wasn't the fire that cut Duncan's life short.

'In order to start fire engines back then, you had to roll it down the ramp and pop the clutch,' Sandy Fire Chief Gary McQueen said. 'What happened was that Walter responded to the station and was hit by the truck as it went down the ramp.'

His death certificate read that he had died while in the line of duty as a firefighter.

Duncan was one of 138 firefighters whose names were etched into the granite and bronze Oregon Fallen Firefighter Memorial wall at the new Oregon Public Safety Academy in Salem.

'The memorial is a tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting life and property across our state,' said Brad Paris, state commander of the Oregon Fire Service Honor Guard.

'For a long time we've honored our fallen law enforcement officers,' said Eriks Gabliks, deputy director of the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. 'This new memorial will now allow us to recognize the contribution of another dedicated group of public safety professionals - our firefighters.'

Hundreds of fire service professionals and family members from three states attended the Sept. 9 dedication ceremony, which included bagpipers, a final roll call of the fallen firefighters and remarks from Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

In addition to the state honor, McQueen said Duncan will be honored at the annual national fallen firefighter recognition ceremony next month in Emmitsburg, Md. 'The fire district has produced a brick in his name' to be placed at the national memorial walk, McQueen said.

While Duncan's legacy is being honored, McQueen said, the Sandy community would like to know more about their fallen son and about his surviving relatives.

'I don't know if any of his family is around,' he said. 'I'd love to find them and make them aware of how he's being honored.'

SEE IT FOR YOURSELF

The Oregon Fallen Firefighter Memorial is at the Oregon Public Safety Academy, 4190 Aumsville Highway in Salem. Call 503-378-4404 for more information.