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. ••