It was 41 years ago this month that Toledo fireman Ralph Arthur and his family ventured out onto the ice of Maumee Bay at Cullen Park near Point Place for an afternoon of fun on their snowmobiles. Arthur, a 19 year veteran of the Toledo Fire Department had just gotten a new snowmobile and was trying it out. According to his daughter Pamela, her father and mother were on the shore while his two teenage children, Patricia and Buck, were out on the snowmobile. All was going well on that cold snowy Saturday afternoon until the children’s snowmobile suddenly vanished, breaking through the ice and slipping into the frigid waters of Maumee Bay near an earthen dike. The 43 year old Arthur, rushed to the breach in the ice and selflessly dove in to save his kids. He was able to pull his 16-year old daughter Patricia out of the water and get her up onto the ice. He then submerged again and found his 19-year old son Buck and was holding him up when other firemen and bystanders arrived and pulled him to safety. The children were taken to Riverside hospital for treatment of exposure. It was estimated they and their father were in the icy water 15-20 minutes before they were rescued. While the children recovered from the exposure, their father, fireman Arthur did not. He died of a heart attack at Riverside Hospital a short time later after being taken there suffering from the intense exposure.
It was a tragic story of selfless heroism that merited front page coverage in the Toledo Blade the next day. A Toledo Fireman who gave his life to save the lives of his two children in what could have easily been a far deeper tragedy. One of the reasons, I wanted to remind readers of this story is due to the strange fact that it really got so little notice at the time at happened. While it did garner a front page story the next day on January 10th, 1971, in my research I could find no follow up story. Not even a simple paragraph about his funeral, or plans to recognize his heroism. A short obituary was all I could find in the days following. Perhaps the lack of coverage speaks to a different time in 1971, or a different sensibility we had about life and how we measured what was or wasn’t newsworthy. A time when it appears the tragic loss of a public servant in the line of duty, did not command the public attention and headlines that it does today.
It is also noted that even Fireman Arthur’s heroics were overlooked by the Toledo Fire Department for over 20 years. Because he was off-duty at the time of the rescue, his name was never included on the official Toledo Fireman’s memorial in downtown Toledo. It wasn’t until 1992, when his 10-year old grandson, Dustin(Buck’s son) asked Toledo officials why his grandfather’s name wasn’t on the memorial. That question prompted other firemen to also ask why and by June 11 of 1992, at the annual memorial service to honor those Toledo firefighters who died in the line of duty, Ralph Arthur’s name was finally added. A gesture that brought comfort to the Arthur family and public validation of Arthur’s selfless act of courage. We are so lucky to have people like Ralph Arthur who walk among us.