TERRE HAUTE —
A record-breaking heat wave had smothered the Midwest for weeks when, on the night of June 18, 1994, West Terre Haute volunteer firefighter and EMT David Barter heard scanner traffic about a serious ATV accident.
Barter, although off duty, quickly responded. Temperatures were nearly 100 degrees that day and, by evening, there was practically no wind, according to a weather data website, wunderground.com.
The rescue work that night was anything but simple and involved walking miles. When it was over, Barter returned to the fire station to write a report where he suffered a heart attack that took his life.
“He left us too soon,” said Barter’s daughter, Britt Barter, who attended Sunday’s annual Fallen Heroes Day Ceremony at the Terre Haute Fire and Police Museum at Eighth and Idaho streets.
“He was a great man. I’m just grateful for the time I had with him.”
David Barter died at age 58 not long after retiring from West Vigo High School where he taught math and science. He was among those remembered Sunday who died in the line of duty. Each year, area emergency responders celebrate the lives of their fallen comrades at the ceremony.
This year, a new name was added to the list of the honored fallen. Firefighter Martin Laffey, 26, died from injuries he received battling a large commercial structure fire on Water Street in 1883, according to information uncovered by Vigo County Historian Mike McCormick and read at the ceremony by Capt. Dave McCarty of the Terre Haute Fire Department.
According to a contemporary newspaper report, Laffey died just 30 minutes after the frame of a burning building fell on him. Two other firefighters were injured in the same incident.
The Fire Department will work to have a sign placed near the scene of the fire that claimed Laffey’s life, said Jeff Fisher, fire chief. Laffey becomes the earliest known fatality for the fire department, he noted. Memorial signs were placed last year at several Terre Haute intersections in honor of fallen police officers and firefighters.
In all, 13 Terre Haute firefighters, 12 police officers, seven sheriff’s deputies and three volunteer firefighters have been killed in the line of duty, according to current records. Their names were read during the ceremony, which included music by the Terre Haute Fire Department Pipes and Drums and solo trumpet performances by Andrew Matties, a senior at North Vigo High School.
Mayor Duke Bennett, who spoke at the ceremony, told the gathering of about 100 people, including a couple of dozen emergency responders, it’s impossible to know when the next call for service will come. During the one-hour ceremony, sirens could be heard in the distance as emergency personnel responded to two different calls, a reminder that emergencies can happen any time, even Sunday afternoons.
“Emergencies never take a day off,” Fisher said.
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org