John J. Zimmerer Sr., 88, led Md. Toll Facilities Police


John Joseph Zimmerer Sr., a former Baltimore fire captain and retired commander of the Maryland Toll Facilities Police, died Thursday of lung cancer at his Essex home. He was 88.

Mr. Zimmerer, the son of German immigrants, was born in Baltimore. He attended the former St. James Elementary School and graduated from Mount St. Joseph High School in 1937.

He held jobs with several local breweries and worked a night shift handling mechanical parts at what became the Martin-Marietta Corp. before applying to the Baltimore Fire Department. His son John Zimmerer Jr. of Essex said his father wanted a steady long-term career, which was hard to find in the Depression.

According to his son, Mr. Zimmerer took a written exam with 2,000 other applicants seeking to enter the department and achieved the seventh-highest score. He joined the department in 1942 and was assigned to Truck 4 and later to Truck 5.

His son recounted how his father nearly lost his life when, after a fire at a home for the elderly, he was climbing from a third-story window and the ladder slipped. Mr. Zimmerer fell with the ladder onto a nearby rooftop and the ax he was holding struck him in the face.

After surgery, he recovered with only some scarring.

In 1945, Mr. Zimmerer was drafted into the Army Air Forces and served for 10 months on several U.S. military bases as a firefighter.

He returned to Baltimore and served with Truck 9 and Engine 21, rising to the rank of captain.

According to his son, Mr. Zimmerer's experience commanding others and fighting fires -- which were seen as a serious danger in highway tunnels -- helped earn him a position as the first commander of the Harbor Tunnel Special Police Force when the tunnel opened in 1957.

In 1971, when his force merged with the Maryland State Roads Commission Bridge Guards to form the Maryland Toll Facilities Police, Mr. Zimmerer was appointed as the first commander of the new organization. He had responsibility for police forces at the Harbor Tunnel, the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge on U.S. 301, the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge on U.S. 40 and the Bay Bridge.

Mr. Zimmerer felt strongly that the toll facilities police forces needed a specialized place to learn job skills, and he was instrumental in the creation of the Maryland Toll Facilities Police Training Academy in 1976.

"He was firm, but fair," his son said. "He had a great relationship with all of the officers that were under him. ... He was always happy, always lighthearted; he always had a smile on his face. He never had a bad word about anyone."

Mr. Zimmerer retired in 1977 after overseeing the opening of the Key Bridge.

He was married for 38 years to the former Mary Ronnie L. Baker. An earlier marriage to the former Elinor Regner ended in divorce.

Mr. Zimmerer was an usher at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church in Essex. He was a former member of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and a past president of Maryland Law Enforcement Officers Inc.

He was an avid golfer, competed as a league bowler and enjoyed growing vegetables in his garden. He was also active at the Essex Senior Center.

A funeral Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. today at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, 8420 Belair Road, Fullerton.

In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by another son, Ronald John Zimmerer Sr. of West Palm Beach, Fla.; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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