It’s been five years since Shawnee firefighter John B. Glaser rushed into a burning house and to his fate.
He’s rarely been far from his colleagues’ minds since his death in 2010 with his memory preserved on their uniforms, on a monument in front of the Fire Department headquarters and a symbolic street sign posted in each of the city’s firehouses reminding the firefighters to be careful.
Add one more memorial for the first Shawnee firefighter to die in the line of duty — the city’s Station No. 71 at 6501 Quivira Road is now named the John B. Glaser Fire Station.
Most of the department’s 59 firefighters, Glaser’s family and several hundred residents and well-wishers attended the ceremony Friday evening — five years to the night he died — to see the name unveiled.
“We think it’s a great tribute,” said Fire Chief John Mattox.
Glaser, 33, a former Marine Reservist, had been a member of the department for six years on May 22, 2010, when his unit was sent to a burning house in the 13400 block of West 75th Court. Reports said he rescued a dog from the house and went back in after hearing an invalid resident might be trapped inside. He got separated from his partner and, at some point, was overcome by smoke and toxic fumes. Efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.
The ceremony on Friday began with a bagpiper playing the “Marine’s Hymn” as an honor guard laid a wreath and Glaser’s fire helmet on Shawnee’s memorial to firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty.
Speakers remembered Glaser’s sense of humor, friendliness and his love of the University of Kansas. The unveiling of the new sign bearing Glaser’s name was accompanied by members of the Shawnee Mission Northwest High School band playing KU’s “Crimson and the Blue.” The four captains and battalion chief who were on duty the night Glaser died, four of whom came out of retirement for the ceremony, helped pull down the tarp covering the new sign.
“The renaming of this fire station will not take away the pain of losing John, but it will ensure we never forget the ultimate sacrifice he made,” said Shawnee Mayor Michelle Distler.
Glaser’s widow, Amber, said her husband made “probably one of the best decisions he could have made” when he decided to become a firefighter following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“He was always wanting to help people, and his dream came true,” Amber Glaser said. “He had found something where he could make a difference in people’s lives. It’s an honor and we feel truly blessed that his legacy will live on forever, and I know he’s looking down on us and is so proud.”
Glaser’s daughter, Emma Grace, who was only 5 months old when she lost her father, thanked the crowd for coming. The couple also had a son, Brecken.
The department has honored Glaser in other ways over the years. The firefighters wear a lapel pin in his memory on their dress uniforms and an annual 5K race in October raises money to support the families of other first responders who have died in the line of duty. The department also has posted a street sign in each fire station bearing the date and address of Glaser’s fatal call that firefighters pass on their way to the equipment bays to remind them to be prepared.
Mattox said the department considered conventional tributes like renaming a street or park after Glaser but that those ideas didn’t seem “personal” enough, leading to renaming the fire station where Glaser spent so much of his life.
“We all remember the night (he died) and we all live it all the time,” Mattox said. “But we’re all going to be gone someday. It’s part of Shawnee’s history, so this way John will always be a part of Shawnee.”