Honoring a fireman who gave to others

Department dedicates fire engine to comrade killed in 2001 accident


July 07, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

James "Jay" Osterman would've looked at the new fire engine at the Woodland Beach fire station beaming, his friends and family said. He would've stood in the station's bay waiting for it to arrive with that gleam in his eye, the look he reserved for two loves: firefighting and flying.

Osterman's family stood in his place last week at the Edgewater fire station, where the fire engine was dedicated to Osterman's memory.

He and his passenger - Daniel James Breitenbach, 50, of Parkville - were killed last summer as Breitenbach took aerial photographs of construction at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Osterman was 37. He had spent half his life fighting fires in Anne Arundel County and had planned to spend the rest - once he retired - flying professionally over the county.

"This means a lot," his widow, Cynthia Hall Osterman, said after the ceremony Monday. "It's things like this that get you through. He would've loved all this."

Colleagues recalled how much time Osterman spent caring for the old truck at the station, where he started volunteering at age 17.

Firefighter Lisa M. Thibeault said she remembers the night that, while the rest of the squad tried to get a few minutes of sleep, she went out to the bay to find Osterman cleaning the truck at 1 a.m.

"He was such a perfectionist," she said. "Everything was a personal challenge for him."

His death in August was mourned at airfields and in fire stations around the state, where Osterman was known for his willingness to help anyone he could. Last year, he was part of a volunteer team of helicopter pilots who helped fight wildfires in the West.

The county department waited until this month so the entire Osterman family could be present for the truck dedication, including Osterman's brother, Jody, a Marine who had been stationed in Hawaii and is back in the area before beginning a tour in Germany.

"I really wanted to be here, mostly because I knew how much this group of people and this community meant to him," said Jody Osterman. "To see a memorial for him really meant a lot to us."

Born in Annapolis and raised in Edgewater, Jay Osterman graduated from South River High School in 1982. He was hired by the county department full time in 1984. Osterman, who received his pilot's license in 1996, also helped the county police start an aviation unit.

County Executive Janet S. Owens noted his contributions to the police and fire departments in her tribute to Osterman, after firefighters unveiled the plaque on the side of the truck. "It's been a hard year for us," Owens said.

Two months ago, county firefighters dedicated a new fire truck at the Harwood-Lothian station to Louis Moreland, who was killed at a construction site in St. Mary's County last year.

"We need to remember our dedicated, committed firefighters," Fire Chief Roger C. Simonds Sr. said at last week's ceremony. "Every time someone walks by this truck, they'll remember Jay. That's important."

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