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Crawl space discovery leads to important memento for firefighting family in Lorain

It's a story that gives meaning to the phrase 'One man's trash is another man's treasure.'

LORAIN, Ohio — Alicia and Drew Zadorozny had planned to seal up the cold-storage space in their basement. It was drafty in the winter, and wasn't being used.

But before covering it up, Alicia wanted to take a look inside, curious about what they may find. They discovered a mess of old books and tires, an old desk, even bowling balls.

Yet one item stood out from the rest: an old firefighter's helmet with "Lorain" scrawled across the front and the name "C. Wilker" painted on the inside.

"It was one of those things where you stop for a second and you look at it and you say, 'What is this? Where did it come from?'" Alicia recalled.

Instead of tossing out the helmet in an effort to clear out the space, Alicia decided to hold onto it, wanting answers as to who it belonged to and how to get it back to them.

"It's somebody that obviously had been a part of either life-saving measures or being a big part in the community," she said.

She took to Facebook, posting in a Lorain community group on Saturday hoping someone may have answers for her. Born and raised in Lorain, she figured someone in the community would have an inkling.

"Being able to post something online and have hundreds of people comment and even tell stories and give suggestions about what they may know or their family knows, it was one of those things that you hoped it would turn out the way it did," she told 3News.

The post took off, garnering more than 600 reactions and more than 300 shares as the Lorain community came together to find "C. Wilker." Alicia messaged the Lorain Fire Department, who shared that C. Wilker was Clarence Wilker, who had been a member of the department. Additionally, his son Brian had recently retired from Westlake's department.

Credit: Provided by Brian Wilker
The helmet belonged to Clarence Wilker, a longtime Lorain firefighter.

Clarence passed away in 1990, a few years after retiring from Lorain, but Alicia was able to connect with his daughter.

"I looked at the pictures [and] I said, 'Yeah, that's my dad's,'" Brian Wilker said when he saw the memento. "I remember the helmet. It's a lot more weathered since I last saw it at his retirement party."

Wilker says he idolized his father, and knew from visits to the fire department when he was little that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.

"Every kid does this," he explained. "They see the lights, they see the flashing lights and the big trucks, and they go down the street and the parades and all that stuff. It just stuck with me."

Out of high school, Brian went to Lorain Community College to become and EMT, then became a paramedic through Tri-C. He worked at a number of agencies before landing at the Westlake Fire Department in 1989, finally retiring as a lieutenant in April of 2021.

Wilker said the discovery of his father's helmet means a lot to his family.

"It does mean a lot to us," he said. "He didn't get to enjoy grandkids or anything like that. It's a nice remembrance for him, with our little bit of a tradition."

A story that gives meaning to the phrase "One man's trash is another man's treasure."

"To find something that somebody might not even know that they're missing," Alicia said, "you hope that it goes somewhere that you can find that connection."

Brian and his sister plan to meet up with the Zadoroznys soon to pick up the helmet.

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