by Chaplain Ron Metts
Indian Field Fire Department
As firefighters, we tend to get numb to death and pain around us. We don’t show when something hurts or when we grieve. This is a hard fact for most people to understand, but anyone who has been a firefighter for more than a few months can well understand, and often see our grief, no matter how hard we try to hide it.
More often than not, we truly don’t feel much grief when it is a “civilian”. Especially when the civilian died at an age and in such a way that is unremarkable. We will tend to what needs to be done and rarely give more than a second thought to those they leave behind.
But how do we feel when it is one of our own? When we lose one of our own brothers or sisters? If it is an older firefighter or a retired firefighter, we grieve, and we move on. Yes, they were close, but as we are all too well aware, death is a part of life. We understand that not only is it part of the job, but it is coming to all of us one day. We can only pray that when it does, we won’t suffer, and our family will be able to deal with it and move on. But again, what happens when it is a young firefighter, say, under 30? Or even a rookie? That stings a bit. We grieve, just knowing that a young man or woman with so much potential for such a long and promising career helping others has had that career cut short. Whether it is from illness, “natural” circumstances or “accident”, really doesn’t matter, we feel the loss a little stronger.
In our county, over the past year, we have lost 3 firefighters, and one retired firefighter. The retired chief who passed lived across the road from his station. Anytime his grandson (who was at that time chief) responded, if his granddad wasn’t on the porch when he left, he knew his granddad would be there when he returned; always standing guard, watching over his guys. When he passed, our entire county mourned his loss, but even his grandson understood that with age, eventually comes death.
Sadly, just a few weeks later, that chief/grandson was killed in a single vehicle accident, late at night. There is much speculation as to how it happened, and quite possibly, the only person who will ever know the truth is now serving at the fire department in heaven with his grandfather and so many others. Regardless, this death, by this 20 something chief seemed to be needless. He was traveling at an excessive speed, not responding to a call and for whatever reason lost control. This, I’m sure, caused many of his brother and sister firefighters to, along with their grief, be angry with him.
A few months later, the chief of another county department passed after a short illness. This man, who had given his life to the fire department, admittedly was the butt of many jokes behind his back, but regardless, he was respected by every firefighter that knew him. He was gruff, and set in his ways. That made many people angry or frustrated, but they still knew that he knew what he was doing and would get it done. Again, he was an older gentleman, and while it was a rather sudden and somewhat unexpected loss, it was still easy enough to get past.
Then, just a few short months later again, we gathered together to bury a young 27 year old firefighter, who died in a VERY tragic and needless way. There is much speculation as to why his truck was on the railroad tracks, and if he purposely stopped there or not, but regardless, it happened. I for one, while I had only met him a couple of times, am truly angry at him. He well knew that his job was to save lives, not to needlessly risk or take his own.
I said all of that to say this. For those of you left behind by someone who took an unnecessary chance or even worse committed suicide, I believe it is ok to be angry with them for what they did. You MUST forgive them, and not hold on to that anger, but it is ok to be angry for a time.
For those of you who are still here, I know it is easy to develop that hero complex. “I’m a firefighter, I can drive fast, party hard, rush up to that fire with no helmet and no SCBA because it won’t happen to me”. Well, brother, that is just STUPID. Please, never, ever, ever, think that “it won’t happen to me”, because that is just when it will. In order to help someone else, you have to get there, and keep yourself as safe as possible while helping them so that you can live on to help the next. Before you take that chance with the train, or driving 90 mph because “you can handle it”, think about how you feel when you lose one of your own because they took a stupid, unnecessary chance. Think about how your brothers and sisters back at the station will feel when they have to load your casket onto that fire truck and hear your last call. Let me tell you, it hurts. Don’t make us suffer another “unnecessary loss”.
About the Author: Ronald “Ron” Metts Jr. is a full time state correctional officer (6 years) as well as volunteer firefighter/chaplain for Indian Field Volunteer Fire Department in Dorchester County, South Carolina. He has been a firefighter there for most of the past 22 years and Chaplain for the past three. Ron is married and has three children: Rabecka (13), Destaney (11), and Brandon (9). His profile picture was taken on the day he and his wife adopted them in September 2012. He is currently a senior at Liberty University Online, studying for his Bachelor of Science degree in Religion with a minor in Christian Counseling.
Chief Cummings died of natural causes on August 5, 2012 at the age of 75. As Chief of the Ridgeville Fire Department, both rural and town, he was the oldest serving Fire Chief in Dorchester County, SC. He was also a founding member of the Cattle Creek Volunteer Fire Department. Chief Cummings was the husband of Beverly Cummings.
Richard “Richie” Willis
Richie died on January 6, 2013, at the age of 27. He was a full time firefighter for Santee Fire District in Orangeburg County, SC, an EMT with STAT Ambulance services, as well as a volunteer firefighter for Grover Volunteer Fire Department in Dorchester County, SC. Richie was married to Brandi Willis and leaves behind 2 daughters and a step-son (Prisayus Felder-Willis and Lahna Willis, and Tanner Parris)
Ross died at the age of 23 on June 5, 2012. He was a full time firefighter for City of Summerville, SC and Chief of Cattle Creek Volunteer Fire Department near Reevesville, SC. following in the steps of his grandfather who had passed just a few weeks earlier. Ross was engaged to be married at the time of his death.