Sunday, December 5, 2021
Owatonna firefighters Arik Brase, left, and Charlie Seykora stand next to a wreath, which has been added temporarily to the permanent memorial for fallen firefighter Victor Buckingham. He was killed in the line of duty in September 1985 while responding to a fire call.

Firefighters remember one of their own

Veteran firefighter Todd Ulrich recalls the toll that losing a partner can cause the rest of the fire department.

In September 1985, Ulrich was a young firefighter, only three years on at the time, when a fire alarm call went out on the south end of Owatonna. Ulrich and his fellow firefighters responded, and they all made it back to the fire station except for one. Victor Buckingham fell off the fire truck and died a few days later.

“We just sat down here for hours for a loss of words as a group,” said Ulrich. “It was the first and only line-of-duty death this department has ever had. It was something nobody ever expected.”

On the 36th anniversary of Buckingham’s death, Ulrich and the rest of the Owatonna firefighters paid tribute to him by honoring his legacy with a temporary wreath that has been added to the permanent memorial located outside the fire station just a few blocks from where Buckingham fell off the truck.

Ulrich said Buckingham’s daughter, Jessica Wagner, came by last week in tears when she saw what the firefighters did for her father. “She appreciated that the firefighters on a personal basis went above and beyond to show our appreciation,” he said.

Most of those who served with Buckingham have since retired, but younger firefighters like Leila Kath are determined to keep his memory alive. This year, members of the Owatonna Fire Relief Association decided to add their own memorial to the existing one.

“Firefighting has always been a brotherhood,” said Kath, whose father, Marlin Kath, served with Buckingham and has since retired. “This just keeps on showing we remember a fallen firefighter even though he passed away many years ago.”

Kath shared how her father welcomed Buckingham to the fire department on a Monday and

One of Buckingham’s family members, who wished to remain anonymous, said the memorial is another way of not forgetting his sacrifice. “It makes a statement at the corner,” the family member said. “It’s a good visual for others to not forget.”

The family member added, “They have always kept his memory alive. This is my second family.”

The original memorial was added when the station was renovated in 1996, according to Ulrich. The American Legion Post 77 and VFW 3723 of Owatonna contributed to the memorial.

Buckingham was survived by his wife, Lois, and two daughters, Jessica and AJ. 



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