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Son of Fallen FF Helps Spur Changes in FD

Son of Fallen FF Helps Spur Changes in FD

Brian Carter, with college friend Kelsey McConkey, says he'd like to be involved in the world of firefighting some way. He talked with firefighters at a D.C. station on Wednesday. [AP]

Washington Post via YellowBrix

August 21, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC – Thirteen years after firefighter John Carter perished in a Northwest Washington blaze, ravaging both a family and a fire department, Carter’s son was in a D.C. fire station on Wednesday, shaking hands with his father’s former colleagues.

It took Brian Carter more than a decade before he felt ready to speak publicly about his father’s death. He was 7 when a corner grocery store at 400 Kennedy St. NW went up in flames, trapping the 38-year-old sergeant in the basement.

Brian still remembers the look on his mother’s face when she arrived at his third-grade classroom that morning in October 1997 and the 100 firefighters — still covered in ash and soot — who showed up in his front yard to pay their respects.

He also remembers the years after that: his mother’s fight to get a reasonable survivor’s annuity from the District, and the fire department’s admission that poor management and a lack of equipment contributed to a death that might have been prevented.

So it was on a happier note Wednesday that Brian, whose father, grandfather and uncle were all firefighters, accepted a $2,000 Vantagepoint Public Employee Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship, for children and spouses of fallen public employees, has been awarded to more than 200 students in the past 10 years.

“I’ve kinda shied away from this,” he told a roomful of firefighters. “But you have to thank the people who’ve done so much for you.”

John Carter was the first D.C. firefighter killed on the job in 13 years.

His death spurred an exhaustive internal investigation and eventually spurred policy changes in the department.

“We weren’t sufficiently equipped with simple things like flashlights and radios,” Lt. Kenneth Crosswhite said after the scholarship ceremony.

“It’s just a shame it took John’s death to bring about those basic changes.”

Added John Carter’s wife, Debra Carter Ketchum: “To think that he was screaming for his life on a radio that wasn’t working — it’s terrible.”

About 2,000 firefighters, some from as far away as Canada, converged on a Rockville church for Carter’s funeral.

Years later, Brian is the image of a well-adjusted 21-year-old. He’s a business major at Salisbury University with a wide, easy smile.

He’s still not sure what comes next, or whether he’ll carry on the family tradition of fighting fires.

“It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about,” he said. “I would like to stay involved in some way.”

His mother looked on, shaking her head. “Oh, God — this is the first time I’ve heard you say that.”

“He’s too smart to fight fires,” said Carter’s uncle, Jimmy Carter.

But at the back of the room, Carter’s grandfather, Roy Carter Sr., a retired Montgomery County fire captain, said quietly, “This family’s got firetrucks in our blood.”