The Portage hero had been recovering from an accident that paralyzed him when an infection
put him in critical condition.
BY JOYCE RUSSELL
Times Staff Writer
PORTAGE -- Frank Gilbert Jr.'s battle to recover from an Oct. 26, 1996 ambulance accident
ended late Thursday.
The Portage Fire Department paramedic passed away at Porter Memorial Hospital, May 29, 1997 shortly
after 11 p.m. following complications from an infection that had invaded his body shortly
after he returned to Portage earlier this month.
Details of Gilbert's death were not available late Thursday, but the Portage Fire Department
was planning a news conference today.
Gilbert, 39 and a native of Highland, had suffered and overcome complications and setbacks
previously during his recuperation and rehabilitation, but could not overcome the latest
The relapse that ended up taking his life began less than 48 hours after he returned home to a
parade and welcome home party May 1. On May 3 Gilbert was rushed to Porter Memorial
Hospital when his blood pressure collapsed.
While he rebounded in the morning hours, his condition continued to worsen. He underwent
exploratory surgery that Saturday afternoon in order for doctors to locate the cause of the
Gilbert remained in PMH's intensive care unit until his death.
Gilbert had been a paramedic with the Portage Fire Department since 1991. Previously he
had worked with the city of Gary for five years and spent two years as chief paramedic at
Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Burns Harbor plant. He also spent two years teaching at Methodist
Hospitals and simultaneously was chief of emergency medical services for the Gary Fire
He also initiated a team of emergency medical services personnel to train and service with
the Lake County SWAT team.
He was an ordained deacon in the Eastern Orthodoxy religion and a member of the Holy
Resurrection Orthodox Church in Hobart. He was also a reserve officer with the U.S. Navy
attached to the 2nd Battalion 24th marine Regiment 4th Marine Division as a medic.
During his 39 years, Gilbert received several awards and commendations for his work as a
paramedic and naval reservist.
In 1994 he was named the Indiana Paramedic of the Year by the Indiana Emergency Medical
Services. This year he received the Portage Firefighter of the Year award from the Portage
Gilbert, know as "Lane" to his family, is survived by his wife Kim; three children, David,
Christine and Emily; parents, Wanda and Frank Gilbert Sr. of Hebron; sister and
brother-in-law C. Sue and Tim Braun and their children of California.
BY JOYCE RUSSELL
Times Staff Writer
As part of the final goodbye to their partner and friend, each firefighter solemnly laid his
white dress gloves on top of the casket.
It was the final act in a day that celebrated Gilbert's life and mourned his death.
The day was filled with tributes to the 39-year-old Portage paramedic who died Thursday,
seven months and three days after he was injured when his ambulance crashed on Ind. 130
just outside of Valparaiso on its way to Porter Memorial Hospital.
Emergency services personnel from every community in Lake and Porter counties, along
with personnel from as far as Fort Wayne, Chicago, Dolton and Brazil, Ind., participated in a
final salute to the father of three. More than 100 emergency vehicles lined up to escort
Gilbert's casket to Calvary Cemetery.
Hundreds of people lined Airport Road and Central Avenue to salute the fallen paramedic,
church deacon, naval reservist, teacher and fire department chaplain as the procession made
its way from Portage High School East to the cemetery.
His casket, draped in an American flag, sat atop Portage Fire Engine No. 3. Two firefighters
flanked the casket while six others walked along side. When the procession reached Portage
City Hall, where a final bell was rung in his honor, nearly a hundred firefighters joined in
walking behind the engine.
At City Hall, which also houses Fire Station No. 1, Gilbert's boots were placed in final
tribute at the foot of the fire station's driveway.
Capt. Larry Widener rang a silver fire bell with a series of three, three and five chimes -- the
fire service 335.
The code, Widener told the crowd, signified, "Paramedic Frank Gilbert is back in his
A dispatching tone was then sounded over the emergency radio system.
Once the procession reached Swanson Road, the Emerald Society Bagpipers, a division of
the Chicago Police Department, escorted the engine, playing a lament, to the cemetery.
At the cemetery, tower trucks from the Hobart and Valparaiso fire departments had their
ladders extended, crossing at the top. A giant American flag hung from the structure.
The sounds of the ceremony reflected the many parts of Gilbert's life.
The Emerald Society played "Amazing Grace" as his casket was lowered from the engine
and carried through a line of firefighters at full attention.
Priests and church officials chanted and prayed. The Lake County SWAT team fired a
21-gun salute, and taps was played mournfully in the background.
Gilbert's family received several items representing his years of service to the country and
the city. Navy personnel folded the American flag, presenting it to Gilbert's wife, Kim.Firefighters presented Gilbert's firefighter helmet to his 12-year-old son, David. His two daughters, Christine and Emily, sat next to their mother and brother during the
service. Alongside were his parents, Wanda and Frank Gilbert Sr. of Hebron; his sister and brother-in-law, C. Sue and Tim Braun of California; his in-laws, Bill and Betty Bacon of
Highland; and numerous other relatives.
The day was a series of emotional tributes to Gilbert, who was described by friends and
co-workers as loyal and dedicated in every walk of life.
In a service at the nearly filled 1,150-seat Portage High School East auditorium, the Rev.
Phillip Drennan recalled a conversation with Gilbert shortly after the Oct. 26 accident.
"He said it was all worth it to him if he knew that only one person would come to the Lord
because of him," Drennan said.
Gilbert was a deacon at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Hobart.
Gilbert was the first Portage emergency services personnel to die in the line of duty. He had
been a paramedic for 15 years, serving with the Portage department since 1991.
Drennan told those gathered at the high school that they should "thank God for the 39 years"
Gilbert served on earth.
"Pause and remember the years of happiness and joy," he said as he recounted Gilbert's life
from serving as a counselor at Bible camp to using his music as a way to reach out to
As his casket sat on the stage, flanked by floral arrangements, a transparent screen slowly
lowered across the stage. With a light shining down on the casket, a video showing Gilbert
playing the guitar and leading a song appeared.
"(Jesus) gave his life so you'd understand," Gilbert sang.
Fellow paramedic and longtime friend Gregg Owen also remembered Gilbert. "Frank is smiling right now," Owen said. "Frank and I were beyond partners. We were closer than brothers. "Whatever he did, he does, he strives to be the best he can be," Owen said, no matter if it was fighting a fire, helping the injured or learning how to swallow again. "He would work until he was exhausted. That's how he did everything. You can honor him by embracing the things that he embraced. He embraced everyone in all ways. His all-encompassing hat of evangelism was his most prized hat. He had a desire to bring as many people as he could to Christ," Owen said. "Honor him by embracing the things he embraced. Treat people like he would treat people," Owen continued.
Also speaking at the service were fellow firefighter Bob Havrilla, Portage Mayor Sammie Maletta and longtime friend Mitch Bright. David Gilbert led the audience in the "Pledge of Allegiance."
Havrilla recited "The Last Alarm," a moving poem dedicated to the children of firefighters
who died in the line of duty.
Times staff writer JOHN REED contributed to this report.
BY JOYCE RUSSELL
Times Staff Writer
PORTAGE -- Even as Frank Gilbert Jr. laid injured inside his ambulance early the morning of Oct. 26 1996, the Portage Fire Department paramedic was thinking of others.
"Ray, I'm paralyzed; my neck is broken," the patient being transported in the back of the ambulance recalled Gilbert saying at the time of the accident.
Still, she told Cpl. Ed Clapp, Gilbert continued to "talk to her, telling her to relax."
The 16-year-old girl being transported to Porter Memorial Hospital was not injured in the crash. Gilbert, 38, was thrown around the back of the ambulance during the accident resulting in the breaking of two cervical vertebrae. He is paralyzed from the shoulders down and remains in critical condition in an intensive care unit at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Clapp, a reconstruction expert and Porter County Sheriff's officer, released the report Wednesday after investigating the accident for three months. The crash occurred about 8 a.m. Oct. 26 on Ind. 130 at Howe Street, just outside the Valparaiso city limits.
His report was based on interviews with witnesses and those involved in the accident, inspection of the ambulance and the scene, including the tire marks left by the ambulance.
"The primary cause of this event is the failure of the secondary participant, prior to beginning his turn, to check properly for surrounding traffic conditions. The dump truck operated by Mr. Curtis Bernard should have yielded to the approaching emergency vehicle," Clapp states in the final paragraph of his seven-page report.
Gilbert was riding in the back of an ambulance driven by fellow paramedic Raymond Smolar. The ambulance was eastbound on Ind. 130 when it approached a Valparaiso city dump truck driven by Bernard.
According to the report, Smolar activated the ambulance's siren and began to pass the truck. Emergency lights were also activated. Smolar told Clapp that he saw the truck's brake lights on, but did not observe an activated turn signal. Smolar believed the truck in front of him was yielding to his vehicle as he began to pass.
However, as he approached the truck, the truck began to turn left onto Howe Street.
"Smolar took evasive action, also attempting to turn onto Howe Street, since he had no other route open to him. Smolar was able to avoid impact with the dump truck. However,the ambulance left the roadway and entered a grassy area. The ground and grass in the area were very wet and soft. This caused a loss of both steering and braking control of the ambulance. The ambulance continued off the roadway and out of control, impacting into a display owned by Northwest Indiana Fence Co. and then into a large tree," Clapp's investigation found.
Bernard told Clapp that he neither heard the siren nor saw the ambulance attempt to pass him until it was right next to him. Bernard said he did have his left turn signal on,but was uncertain at what point it was activated. In a later interview, Bernard told Clapp his turn signal was activated at the crest of the hill west of the accident scene.
Bernard told Clapp that he did not look to the rear of the truck prior to beginning his turn.
Clapp also determined:
* The ambulance was traveling at a speed of 50.59 mph, "not unreasonable" for an ambulance on an emergency run in a 45 mph speed zone.
* The area was not a restricted passing area and the driver of the truck "should have been able to observe the presence of the emergency vehicle behind him."
* Had the ambulance been operating with its siren on for the entire emergency run, the truck driver may have been alerted to the ambulance earlier.
* The dump truck driver was obligated to yield the right of way to the ambulance.
* The use of seatbelts by Gilbert, although admittedly impractical, may have reduced his injuries.
* The placement of the head of the squad bench inside the back of the ambulance caused Gilbert to rotate as he slid forward and represents a potential design flaw.
* No evidence of the use of alcohol or drugs by either driver was found.
* By his own statement, Bernard did not look for passing vehicles prior to attempting to turn.
* No evidence of contact between the ambulance and the dump truck was found.
"We are happy and believed all along that our standard operating procedure was being followed at the time of the accident," said Portage Assistant Fire Chief Tim Sosby. "We stand by the report, but won't comment beyond that."
Jim Dishman, commissioner of Solid Waste and Recycling for Valparaiso, didn't see the report until Wednesday afternoon.
"I have no comment. It is still under investigation," Dishman said. (END "TIMES" REPORT)
PORTAGE (05-31-97)-- Mitch Bright remembers joking with his longtime friend Frank Gilbert Jr., calling him Clayton Moore, the actor who portrayed the Lone Ranger on early television.
"He had just such a desire to help," Bright, of Hobart, recalled of Gilbert who died Thursday at Porter Memorial Hospital.
It was when Gilbert was helping someone that he was injured in an Oct. 26, 1996, accident. As a paramedic, he was tending to a patient in the rear of the ambulance on Ind. 130 just outside of Valparaiso. The ambulance swerved from the road to avoid a dump truck and crashed into a tree. The impact threw Gilbert around the rear of the ambulance, breaking two of his cervical vertebrae.
Gilbert, 39, spent six months in Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago before coming home May 1, 1997. On May 3,1997, he was admitted to PMH with an infection.
complications from the infection caused his condition to decline the following four weeks until he died Thursday, May 29, 1997.
Portage City hall, where fire department offices and fire station No. 1 are located, was hushed Friday. Flags were lowered to half-mast. Firefighters wore a black stripe across their badges in memory of their fallen comrade. Both fire stations were drapped in purple bunting as the city went into mourning for Gilbert.
"This didn't happen in one day," Portage Fire Department Assistant Chief Jeff Scheub said during a press conference Friday morning.
"It had been a real struggle," Scheub said describing the past month.
Early Thursday morning Gilbert's bBody began to shut down.
"The doctors met with his family and fire department and told us Frank would probably pass either yesterday or today," Scheub recounted.
Gilbert had been on a respirator since his accident.
"His family did make the decision that if something did happen, there would be no compressions, no shock. It was a no code," Scheub said.
"He and I were both characters," Bright, who met Gilbert in 1974, said Friday. "He was just selfless. He had a wonderful, wonderful sense of humor. He had a compliment for everyone. He was a great guy and devoted to kids, everyone's and his own."
Bright was with Gilbert when he passed away Thursday night.
"He died so incredibly peacefully. I stood at the foot of his bed and held his feet as he died," Bright said describing Gilbert's last moments, adding his room in PMH's intensive care unit was filled with the people he loved.
The Fire Department issued a press release Friday, acting as spokesmen for themselves and the Gilbert family.
"We are deeply saddened today at the loss of a friend, a brother, a husband, a dad, a son. We found peace, compassion and friendship in Frank Gilbert and that is how Frank served his community, church and family," Scheub read, flanked by acting Fire Chief George Nikkos and Assistant Chief Tim Sosby.
"The Portage community has lost a firefighter and a friend. The Portage Fire Department has lost a brother and family member. Frank Gilbert's dedication, enthusiasm and love for his profession was exemplified every time Frank donned a uniform. Frank was truly respected in Emergency Services as an inspiration among his peers.
"The Gilbert family would like to thank the community for their thoughts, prayers and support that have graciously shown over the last seven months. Words cannot express the gratitude the entire Gilbert family feels towards all who have expressed their love to Frank, Kim, David, Christine and Emily and the rest of the Gilbert family," Scheub read.
"The family has endured so much during Frank's lengthy stays at Northwestern and Porter Memorial hospitals and would like to thank the staff of each hospital for their professionalism they showed Frank and the support and love they expressed to the Gilbert family."
Scheub also thanked area firefighters and fire departments for their support of Gilbert and his family. Scheub added that the Valparaiso Fire Department and PMH Emergency Medical Services department have offered to help staff the Portage fire stations during the next three to five days so that Portage personnel may attend Gilbert's visitation and services.
Frank Gilbert, a Highland native and known as "Lane" to his family, is survived by his wife, Kim; three children, David, Christine and Emily; parents, Frank Sr. and Wanda Gilbert of Hebron; sister and brother-in-law, C. Sue and Tim Braun and their children, of California and parent-in-laws, Betty and Bill Bacon of Highland.
A paramedic for 15 years, he joined the Portage department in 1991. He was also a member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve attached as a medic with the U.S. Naval Reserves. He was a deacon in the Antiochian Orthodox religion at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Hobart.
Gilbert's memory etched in stone
Portage paramedic Frank Gilbert Jr. honored in national service for fallen firefighters.
BY JOYCE RUSSELL
Times Staff Writer
They came from all over the United States and Canada with one thing in common.
They had lost a loved one, a firefighter, in the line of duty.
"The most important thing was the fact that there were so many of us in the same situation,"
said Wanda Gilbert of Hebron. "We know Frank's story, but every family had a story."
Gilbert is the mother of deceased Portage firefighter and paramedic Frank Gilbert Jr.
Frank Gilbert Jr. was inducted into the International Association of Fire Fighters Memorial
for fallen firefighters in Colorado Springs, Colo., this weekend.
The 39-year-old father of three died May 29, seven months after an accident near Valparaiso
broke two cervical vertebrae and left him paralyzed from the neck down. Gilbert was
tending to a patient in the back of the ambulance when the accident occurred.
While he spent six of the months in Chicago hospitals and a rehabilitation center, Gilbert
returned home May 1. Less than two days later he returned to Porter Memorial Hospital in
Valparaiso with an infection that eventually claimed his life.
"It was one of the most moving things you've ever seen," said Wanda Gilbert. "So many of
us were there with the same heartaches. We shared and we laughed about the good times."
She traveled to Colorado Springs with Frank's wife, Kim, and his son, David, both of
Portage; Frank's cousin Vickie Anderko of Highland and her son Jeremy, of Indianapolis;
Frank's sister, Sue Braun of California; and Portage Fire Department Assistant Chief Jeff
"It was just a reminder that Frank will never be forgotten. It was really nice and very
emotional," Kim Gilbert said Monday. "There were at least 500 people there and you all had
something in common."
Frank Gilbert was one of 27 firefighters inducted during the Saturday memorial service.
Their names were inscribed on a black marble wall.
Adjacent to the wall is a sculpture titled "Somewhere-Everyday." The sculpture depicts a
firefighter climbing a ladder, holding a small child.
A second sculpture, "Lamentation," depicts a firefighter sitting on the steps of a house
where a residential fire had been extinguished. Inspired by an Associated Press photograph,
the firefighter had just learned three of his comrades had died.
Both sculptures were created by Gary Coulter.
The Gilbert family attended a banquet Friday night. The induction ceremony was held
Saturday under skies shrouded by fog and drizzling rain.
Representatives of an honor guard presented each family with a glass encased U.S. flag. The
flags had flown over the memorial for 24 hours after the death of the firefighter. As the
names of each firefighter were read aloud, a single bell rang, symbolizing the firefighters'
final "call home."
Speeches were given, songs were sung and poems read during the ceremony. It culminated
with the releasing of hundreds of white balloons.
This was the 11th annual memorial observance where 846 names have been memorialized,
including Hobart firefighter Herlof "Ted" Hansen III, who died in 1995 while fighting a fire.
One Year Later......
Frank Gilbert Jr.'s Name Joins EMS Memorial.
The Portage paramedic,injured in the line of duty,
will be honored in Roanoke, Va., May 23, 1998
BY JOYCE RUSSELL
Times Staff Writer
PORTAGE -- Nearly a year after his death, Portage firefighter/paramedic Frank Gilbert Jr. will be honored at a national ceremony this month in Roanoke, Va.
He will be one of 22 emergency medical service providers recognized at the National EMS Memorial Service on May 23.
Gilbert died May 29, 1997, seven months after he was injured in an ambulance accident while transporting a patient to Porter Memorial Hospital in Valparaiso.
Gilbert was tending to the patient in the rear of the
ambulance when it swerved to avoid a collision with
a Valparaiso city dump truck. The ambulance struck
a tree throwing Gilbert around, causing the breaking
of two cervical vertebrae.
He spent six months in a hospital and rehabilitation
center in Chicago before coming home May 1,
1997. But less than two days later, Gilbert was
taken to Porter Memorial Hospital with an
infection that would claim his life.
His wife, Kim, and sister, C. Sue Braun, also of
Portage, will attend the ceremony in Roanoke.
"It's a good thing. It's a week before the actual year
anniversary of his death," said Kim Gilbert. "It's
strange how it worked out that way.
"This makes it certain to me that his name will
always be visible."
The names of the 22 EMS providers, all of whom
died in recent years while assisting sick or injured
people, will be engraved on individual brass leaves
that will become a part of the "Tree of Life," a
permanent memorial to EMS personnel who died in
the line of duty, according to Kevin L. Dillard,
memorial service chairman and president of the
Virginia Association of Volunteer Rescue Squads,
which founded the memorial service in 1993.
Since the service was established, 119 providers
from 35 states have been recognized.
The "Tree of Life" is a special display in "To The
Rescue," a national EMS exhibit highlighting the
history of emergency medical service and the tools,
technology and training used by EMS personnel.
Frank Gilbert was honored posthumously last
September by the International Association of
Firefighters when he was inducted into their
memorial for fallen firefighters in Colorado
This recognition, Kim Gilbert said, would have
"That's what he was doing at the time of the
accident," she said, explaining that he was involved
in the paramedics' aspect of his job when the
Gilbert, the father of three, was 39 years old when
he died. In addition to being a firefighter and
paramedic, the Highland native was also a deacon in
Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Hobart. He
had been a paramedic for 15 years, working with the
Portage department since 1991. He was also a
reserve officer with the U.S. Navy.
A local memorial service commemorating the
anniversary of Gilbert's death will be held at 10 a.m.
Saturday, May 30 at his grave, in Calvary Cemetery,
Central Avenue and Willowdale Road.
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