Honoring a hero

"I think it's un­be­liev­able after twenty-eight years that so many people re­mem­ber him. I'm see­ing people today who I haven't seen for years." — Joseph Kon­rad's wid­ow, Helen


Fight­ing fires was more than a pro­fes­sion to Joseph Kon­rad. It was a fam­ily leg­acy and a per­son­al pas­sion.

Al­most three dec­ades after the Up­per Holmes­burg res­id­ent lost his life while as­sist­ing in the res­cue of a wo­man from a burn­ing house, Kon­rad’s fam­ily and former col­leagues on Sept. 19 honored his hero­ic con­tri­bu­tions to the Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment and the com­munity.

They un­veiled a me­mori­al plaque in his name at the En­gine 25 fire­house in Kens­ing­ton.

Long be­fore Kon­rad joined the fire de­part­ment in 1968, he had the leg­acy part down pat. His fath­er, Joe, was a fire­fight­er, as were his three uncles and his older broth­er, Jack.

Grow­ing up in the Kon­rad fam­ily, “He al­ways heard about it. That’s all you heard. That’s all I heard,” said Jack Kon­rad. “He loved it.”

Joseph Kon­rad en­joyed 15 years in his dream job un­til los­ing his life on June 13, 1984.

On that date, En­gine 25 at Boud­inot Street and Hart Lane re­spon­ded to a box call on the 2000 block of Tulip St. Upon ar­rival, the com­pany saw flames shoot­ing from a multistory, middle-of-the-block row­house. Someone told them a wo­man was trapped in­side.

Kon­rad and sev­er­al col­leagues launched a search-and-res­cue mis­sion in­to the blaze. Mo­ments later, the build­ing col­lapsed on them. Kon­rad died from his in­jur­ies. He was 37 years old and the fath­er of five chil­dren, ages 5 to 10.

Three of the sons, Joseph, Mi­chael and James, grew up to be­come Phil­adelphia fire­fight­ers, just like their dad.

Kon­rad is also sur­vived by his wife, Helen, daugh­ter, Kath­leen, and son Thomas.

“I think it’s un­be­liev­able after twenty-eight years that so many people re­mem­ber him,” Helen Kon­rad said. “I’m see­ing people today who I haven’t seen for years.”

The May­fair Busi­ness As­so­ci­ation and the May­fair Civic As­so­ci­ation sponsored the plaque in­stall­a­tion as part of the Hero Plaque Pro­gram, which has in­stalled 101 fire­fight­er plaques in the city and sur­round­ing re­gion, in ad­di­tion to 157 for po­lice and oth­er pub­lic safety of­ficers killed in the line of duty. The busi­ness and civic as­so­ci­ations raised money for the me­mori­al through its third an­nu­al Fallen Her­oes Run, ac­cord­ing to the civic as­so­ci­ation’s pres­id­ent, Joe De­Fe­lice.

Joseph Kon­rad gradu­ated from the former St. Joan of Arc School in Har­rowg­ate, then North­east Cath­ol­ic High School, Class of 1964. He served two years in the U.S. Army in­clud­ing a tour in Vi­et­nam.

When he re­turned stateside, he took a job as a Bell Tele­phone line­man, but fire­fight­ing was his true call­ing. He served with En­gine 71 at 1900 Cottman Ave. then En­gine 35 at 4208 Ridge Ave. be­fore set­tling with “25s” close to his boy­hood neigh­bor­hood.

In 1982, Kon­rad earned a unit cita­tion for as­sist­ing in the res­cue of sev­en people from a build­ing fire at 2800 Kens­ing­ton Ave.

“He liked the ca­marader­ie, the ex­cite­ment, all of that to­geth­er,” said Jack Kon­rad, who re­tired from the de­part­ment in 2003 after 41 years of ser­vice.

He liked it so much, he and his pals used to re­live the ac­tion over and over though their vivid storytelling.

“They called it ‘lay­ing line.’ That meant they were talk­ing about it,” Helen Kon­rad said. “And that’s what my sons are like.”

Helen Kon­rad didn’t urge her sons to join the fire de­part­ment. They made the de­cisions on their own.

“It floors me, too,” she said. “I think it’s a tra­di­tion thing and they see good people [in the fire de­part­ment], what they stand for, the in­teg­rity.”

En­gine 25 re­mains a thriv­ing fire­house largely due to Joseph Kon­rad’s leg­acy, ac­cord­ing to re­tired Fire Capt. Jimmy Miller.

“The tra­di­tion that few sta­tions still have but En­gine 25 has is a trib­ute to Joe,” Miller said. ••


You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus