Family of firefighter killed in 1954 fire runs to remember

Lucas Rivera and Rubi Pacheco-Rivera, niece of Philadelphia Police Officer Jose M. Ortiz, who died on duty in 2000, wait for family members.
Lucas Rivera and Rubi Pacheco-Rivera, niece of Philadelphia Police Officer Jose M. Ortiz, who died on duty in 2000, wait for family members.
Posted: June 10, 2012

For the Junod family, Saturday's race was about honoring a fallen fireman who many in the family never had a chance to know.

One of 10 firefighters killed in a 1954 explosion and fire, Bernard Junod, 42, left behind six children, including his 13-year-old son, Richard. Now 71, Richard held a black-and-white photo of his father as he ran across the finish line with two of his children by his side.

It was the first run for the Junod family at the Badges of Honor 5K that honors fallen police and correctional officers and firefighters. The idea to participate came from Richard Junod's daughter, Stephanie Andrewlevich, a 37-year-old teacher leader at Conwell Middle Magnet School. Her father called her decision a "heartfelt connection" to a man she never had the chance to know, save for her father's written and spoken stories.

"Those memories are strong. There's a mixture of loss and pride, and I think that happens with everybody who loses somebody in the protection of others," Richard Junod said.

Like the Junod family, participants in Saturday's event in Fairmount Park ran and walked to honor the fallen, but also to remember the survivors. Money from the event benefits the police, fire, and correctional officers' survivors funds that support families of officials killed in the line of duty.

The event, in its fourth year, was started by John Bolaris, a former chief meteorologist at Fox 29 following the shooting death of Police Officer John Pawlowski, 25, whose wife was pregnant at the time. "I remember thinking this dad isn't going to get to see his first son," said Bolaris, who approached the city with the idea of doing something to honor officials who risk their lives for others. The result was the Badges of Honor 5K, which typically raises approximately $20,000, Erica Atwood, a specialist for external affairs and community engagement in the mayor's office, said.

This year's race drew about 400 participants. The first runner to complete the course was Jimmy Daniels, 16, a junior with the Somerdale Fire Department in New Jersey who runs on his high school team. Daniels said he finished No. 3 in 2010 and No. 2 in 2011. City officials, including Mayor Nutter, attended the event and praised safety officials for the work they do.

"Let us keep all of our first responders, all of our public safety officers, all of our public employees in our thoughts and in our prayers," Nutter said.

The recent deaths of Lt. Robert Neary, 59, and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney, 25, who died in a five-alarm fire in Kensington, were also on the minds of attendees. "A special heart goes out to Lt. Neary and Firefighter Sweeney," Bolaris told the runners. "You can make a difference in their families."

The Junod family still remembers the help their own family received after the Oct. 28, 1954, fire in the Charles W. Berg Laboratories at Fifth and Berks Street in North Philadelphia. Bernard Junod died five days later from injuries he suffered when a 4,000-gallon chemical tank exploded. He was blinded and suffered serious lung injuries from inhalation of the chemical fumes.

In a letter to The Inquirer in November 1954, Bernard Junod's wife, Regina, thanked the city for its support, and focused on the relationships of those in the Fire and Police Departments: "I knew then what my husband had tried to tell me so often: that the men of those departments, and that their life together meant as much as ours at home." Nearing the end of her letter, she thanked the fellow firemen "who cheered me in my darkest hour." Regina Junod died three years ago. Richard Junod and four other siblings live in Northeast Philadelphia, while one resides in Tennessee, and another in Florida.

The appreciation persists, two generations later.

"Any way to help current families the way I know my family was helped is very important," Andrewlevich said, elaborating on why she decided to do the race.

Contact Angelo Fichera at afichera@philly.com, 215-854-4904 or @AJfichera on Twitter.

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