A memorial plaque for a Barrie firefighter killed in the line of duty two decades ahgo has been vandalized less than three months after being installed at a city park bearing his name.
Friends, family and colleagues of William Jonathan (Billy) Wilkins honoured the late firefighter earlier this year with a recognition ceremony and the unveiling of a plaque in his honour on Sept. 16 at Wilkins Park on Crimson Ridge in the city’s south end.
“Our Barrie Fire team, the city of Barrie, our community, and the friends and family of Firefighter Wilkins are saddened and disappointed to become aware that the memorial in honour Bill has been vandalized,” Barrie Fire Chief Cory Mainprize wrote in an email to BarrieToday. “We will work with our partners to restore the memorial to its honourable state.”
Barrie Firefighter No. 67 was a third-class firefighter and training facilitator when he died on May 27, 2002. He was 32 years old.
That morning, Wilkins went to a house fire in the city’s northwest end with his platoon, for a call at 12 Sinclair Crt., near Anne and Livingstone streets.
Shortly after 10:42 a.m., Wilkins would tragically become the city’s fourth firefighter to die in the line of duty, and the first in 54 years.
Wilkins was overwhelmed by smoke in the basement of the Sinclair Court home and crews were unable to find him.
Barrie police communications co-ordinator Peter Leon told BarrieToday they had not received an official report about the vandalism, but said he was “disgusted” when he saw a picture of the damage.
“I am disgusted that anybody would disgrace the honour and the sacrifice that Billy Wilkins made to this community by doing such a terrible thing to the memorial plaque that was placed in his honour,” Leon said. “I remember when this happened and it had an incredible impact on our community. I attended that funeral and to see that somebody would vandalize his memorial plaque in the manner in which they did shows incredible disrespect for his sacrifice.”
Leon said if police are able to determine the individual — or individuals — responsible for the damage, they will be held accountable for their actions.
“Whoever did this owes an incredibly huge apology not only to our community and to Bill’s family, but also to Barrie Fire and Emergency Services as well," he said.
A City of Barrie spokesperson told BarrieToday that staff were notified that the Bill Wilkins memorial plaque had been vandalized.
"Staff removed the sign (Monday) morning and are working on repairing it," the spokesperson said.