Goodwin at the helm

March 17, 2004

OF THE THREE missing tourists from the Lady D, Corinne J. Schillings was the last to be found. But when Baltimore Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. told us that "Corinne is going home," we believed him. Baltimoreans expect public servants to be professional, responsible, diligent in their duties. But Chief Goodwin offered us more in the 10 days that followed the capsizing of the Seaport Taxi off Fort McHenry. He won our trust with his dignified stance, his calm resolve, his words of simple comfort.

The 48-year-old fire chief, the son and grandson of firefighters, has been the public face of the rescue crews who saved 21 water taxi passengers on that Saturday afternoon -- a face of grim confidence and heartfelt compassion. His has been the somber voice chronicling the efforts to find the three missing tourists who were swept away in the storm's unforgiving wake.

Somber because as a 28-year veteran of the department, a diver himself who grew up along the Canton waterfront when the harbor was a working man's home port, Chief Goodwin knew what awaited the families of 6-year-old Daniel Bentrem, Andrew M. Roccella, 26, and Ms. Schillings, also 26. On Sunday, divers found the boy and Mr. Roccella, not far from where the Lady D overturned. They found Ms. Schillings on Monday. Chief Goodwin's description of bringing them "home" helped us all to see that there was more to their lives than their unbearably sad fate.

The Fire Department is responsible not only for fighting fires within Baltimore and its environs of 88 square miles, but also for rescue and recovery missions. As head of the department, Chief Goodwin is its main spokesman. He spoke as the chief, but also for his men and women -- firefighters such as Bob Sebeck and Bart Cohey, who rushed to their city fire boat as the alarm gong sounded. Among the first to arrive on the accident scene, Mr. Sebeck jumped into the harbor in only his uniform and life vest to try to rescue a woman he saw floating. He was one of many who spent those harrowing first minutes in the icy water or on deck trying to breathe life back into the lifeless.

Chief Goodwin was the face of all involved in the rescue and recovery mission: the naval reservists who arrived first on the scene, the Baltimore Police Marine Unit, Coast Guard personnel, employees of SeaTrepid Inc., Tyco Telecommunications and Marine Sonic Technology, the businesses that donated sonar and robotics equipment vital to the recovery effort.

He represented all of them because he could -- this is a fire chief of whom it is said that he wouldn't ask someone to do a job he wouldn't take on himself. He represented the best they had to offer.

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