CLEVELAND (WJW) – A firefighter rescues a dilapidated, crumbling playground “after” he passes away from COVID-19 complications.

Drakefield Park in Westpark has been totally transformed and was re-dedicated Wednesday night in memory of Lt. Richard Petras, a 26-year veteran of the Cleveland Fire Department.

The city council also approved this week renaming the park after Petras.

“It’s overwhelming sometimes. I think he would’ve absolutely loved it. Of all the memorials we had for him, this would probably be one of his favorites,” said Jill Petras, Lt. Petras’ widow.

The park is why the family moved to that street and Lt. Petras wanted to save it, writing an email to his councilman shortly before he died in August 2020.

“He just didn’t want to see this park deteriorate. He wanted to see kids here, he wanted to see families here again,” said Jill.

Councilmember Charles Slife had just begun speaking with Petras about the park when he learned of his passing.

“When I saw his name come up, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I just talked to him,’” said Slife. “I said, ‘I really want to do something different, I want to do something special.’”

An investment of $400,000 was made in improvements, according to the mayor’s office of capital projects.

Old asphalt was replaced with bouncy rubber flooring and everything from the slides to the ropes and a big fire truck are designed to inspire children to become firefighters, with many ADA features. 

“We came to the park and really wanted to make improvements. To improve not only the quality of play, but more importantly the quality of accessibility to play,” said Jim McKnight, senior landscape architect.   

There’s also a memorial garden, plaque and stone for Lt. Petras, a lasting tribute to a man who loved his family, served his city and only wanted the best for everyone.

“It will be so nice when one of my daughters has a grandchild one day,” said Jill. “You tell our grandkids and their children about their grandfather.”