Anyone who has ever served in a uniformed service — military, fire and rescue, or law enforcement — will tell you the camaraderie is like no other. You do not work with a person, you serve with them. You become closer than just a bond of friendship. Each member of a uniform service knows that they not only depend on one another to perform the unique service task, but also that there could come a time they may depend on that person to save their life.
When a member of a uniformed service dies, the extended family unites to support one another and the immediate family of the members. In June, the Frederick County fire and rescue family had two unexpected and tragic losses. Though one was a career firefighter and one a volunteer firefighter, and the situations were different, we all mourn.
On the morning of June 2, firefighter Drue Jones failed to report for duty at the Vigilant Hose Co. in Emmitsburg. Concerned about his failure to report, fire and rescue personnel from Frederick and Montgomery counties went to his farm in Dickerson and eventually found him deceased resulting from injuries suffered in a tractor accident. Drue, a career firefighter, received an outpouring of love from the caring volunteer station to which he was assigned, the Vigilant Hose Company. He was part of their fire service family. All members of our county fire and rescue services shared a common loss.
On Tuesday, June 25, I responded to the Libertytown Volunteer Fire Department in the early hours when our station was dispatched to a two-alarm house fire in Carroll County. Our tanker was pulling from the engine bay as I entered the parking lot. I remained back to provide staffing for any additional needed equipment. Mike Powers responded a minute or so behind. We remained at the fire station in the event of another alarm, about 20 minutes later. We were dispatched for a medical assist near Unionville. Along with Medic 17, we responded to the incident on Engine 172. Mike Powers was driving.
Returning to the station, Mike indicated that even though he had recently passed his firefighter physical, he wasn’t sure how much longer he would be responding. Earlier in the year he did take a sabbatical, and he announced his “retirement” from being an operational member. But he missed responding and felt the need to return, especially when a member who was a regular driver moved out the area. He most likely knew he would need to drive for only a few months as our department has requested more career staffing from Frederick County.
We sat for about an hour and reminisced about our fire service adventures over our many years. Mike and I met around 1970 when he was a member of the Carroll Manor Fire Co. He started his volunteer fire service career even earlier as a member of the Brunswick Volunteer Fire Co. In the early 1980s, he and his wife moved to Libertytown. Mike almost immediately joined the Libertytown Volunteer Fire Department.
His last response was as the driver of Engine 172, the same truck I rode on with him at 4:40 a.m. the same day. He drove Engine 172 to a serious auto crash on Md. 26 near Unionville, almost within sight of the residence we had responded to early that morning. Less than five minutes after arriving, he collapsed. Actions to save his life were started without delay; a paramedic, ambulance crew, and other support personnel were administering aid in seconds. Tragically, even with immediate CPR and advanced life support intervention, firefighter Mike Powers responded on his last alarm.
The outpouring of support and condolences was amazing. Several volunteer companies from Frederick and surrounding counties provided standby crews. The Division of Fire and Rescue Services provided almost unlimited support from logistics to critical incident stress management. Fire departments from Minnesota to Arizona have sent condolences. Even several union locals from around the United States sent condolences for a volunteer firefighter. The Royal Netherlands Guard sent flowers. The fire and rescue service is truly an international family.
Approximately 35,000 times a year, the men and women of the Frederick County fire and rescue service respond to those in need. Every incident is different. There is no such thing a routine response. In Prince George’s County last year, a non-emergency call to check on the welfare of a patient resulted in two firefighters shot, one fatally. Any alarm can have hidden danger or result in unexpected tragedy.
We lost two of our own last month through tragic circumstances — one member off duty and one member died in the line of duty. The men and women of the Frederick County fire and rescue service will continue to respond anywhere, anytime and for almost anything. These two dedicated members of our service will be missed. Though they can no longer serve our county, we will all continue to provide service in their honor.
Clarence “Chip” Jewell is president and assistant chief of the Libertytown Volunteer Fire Department and retired deputy chief/director of the Division of Volunteer Fire & Rescue Services.