Two months after suddenly losing their son, the family of Quincy firefighter John Austin stood in the West Quincy fire station with city officials, handing them a check for $10,000.
The money will be used for fire station upgrades, and is the start of a citywide initiative to take inventory of the structures and figure out how they can be improved.
“We have to move on, but we move on with a greater sense of commitment for fire service, on improving the conditions of the firehouses,” said Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch. “John Austin’s memory will live on for many years.”
Austin, who was 37, collapsed in the Copeland Street firehouse in July and was pronounced dead a short time later. Fire Chief Joseph Barron said he hasn't been told the official cause of death, but he understood it wasn't related to conditions at the fire station.
In addition to his family, he left behind a fiancé and a son.
Austin’s mother, Lillian Austin, and father, John Austin, attended the ceremony on Tuesday, presenting a check to the city to kick off the program.
“This can be the start of a new beginning,” Lillian said.
According to Lillian, her son had always used to tell his mom about the problems at the fire stations around the city, and implored her to go see the mayor to request fixes.
“After he died, I realized this might be a good time to do something,” Lillian said. “I always said put your money where your mouth is. [My husband] John and I talked it over and said lets get this donation to the city and get it going.”
Lillian will serve on a committee being created to help sort through and prioritize the fire station issues.
Koch said the committee would be comprised of public safety officials and public building officials. An architect might be brought on board initially to develop short- and long-term goals. The committee is expected to identify sources of funding, which most likely would be appropriated on a case-by-case basis.
Already, Koch had some ideas for potential fixes, including sagging floors in several fire stations made weak by too heavy equipment and structural needs at stations along the water.
“We’ve done a decent job maintaining our buildings, but there is room for improvement, and at the impetus of the Austins, we’ll move forward with that,” Koch said.
Lillian requested only that the first updates be made at her son’s fire station in West Quincy, where compatriots could finally see some good out of a tragic loss.