Father's tribute to a fallen soldier

Thermal imager to fire company honors son killed in Pan Am flight

August 19, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun reporter

A plaque on a firetruck at the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Co. bears the name of an Army lieutenant killed nearly 20 years ago in a terrorist bombing in Scotland.

The engine carries a new thermal-imaging camera, purchased with a $10,000 donation from George H. Williams. He gave the camera in memory of his only son, 1st Lt. George W. Williams, who died in 1988 aboard Pan Am Flight 103. Terrorist-planted bombs detonated on the plane over Lockerbie, killing all 259 people aboard and 11 others on the ground.

"Mr. Williams just came in here one day and said he wanted to donate the money for the camera and make sure we had one on the truck," said Ed Wimmer, president of the volunteer company, which typically responds to more than 5,000 fire or ambulance calls a year. "This camera will help us save lives."

Williams, who was on vacation last week and unavailable for comment, told the fire company that he plans to attend a brief dedication ceremony at 7 p.m. Tuesday marking the gift.

The cameras are a key tool for firefighters. Developed from military technology, the device allows the user to see in most environments, even in darkness and dense smoke.

"These cameras are ... the first thing we take off the engine," said Dave Williams, spokesman for Harford County Fire and Emergency Services and no relation to the donor's family. "Whether it's a rescue situation, an odor of smoke or a working fire, this imager is important."

The camera works on the heat "signature" of objects and allows the user to see through smoke and find a victim, Williams said.

"Without this camera, the first-in crews have little or no visibility," he said.

The camera can detect heat and smoke behind drywall or from a heating unit or overhead light.

"It really helps us minimize damage to the home," Williams said.

George Williams, a longtime Joppatowne resident, still resides in the same home where he and his wife, Judy, raised their son. The 24-year-old, who was a track and field star at Joppatowne High, earned a degree in computer science and economics at Western Maryland College in Westminster, now known as McDaniel College. A helicopter pilot, he was serving with the Army in Germany when he was killed on the flight he had taken home for Christmas.

Since the bombing, George Williams, a retired postal employee and real estate agent, has worked tirelessly to bring the terrorists to justice. He has urged the Federal Aviation Administration to enact stronger regulations and served on the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security.

For several years he has headed the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, an organization representing most of the 189 U.S. families, including seven from Maryland, who lost loved ones in the bombing.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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