Line of Duty Death. David Palmer, Firefighter / Medic Roanoke Fire/EMS

I have so many mixed feelings that I’m not sure where to begin.

David “Big Dave” Palmer, age 54 was laid to rest yesterday after an almost 2 year battle with cancer. He was buried with Fire Department honors.

Read local coverage HERE .

If you took the time to hit the link above, you now know that Big Dave was the 2nd (and possibly one of three) Line of Duty Deaths in Roanoke since 2009.

His type of  cancer (rectal) is considered “presumptive”. By law, it is “presumed” that certain types of cancer are contracted from or through the job. As firefighters, we are more sussable to various types of cancer due our exposure (or potential exposure) to various toxins etc.

Big Dave received full honors for his burial and is concidered a “Line of Duty Death”. He didn’t die on the job but his duty most likely killed him.

He had been retired for almost 2years now but what the paper didn’t say was that it was his illness (cancer) that forced him to retire in the first place. Can we trace the illness back to a time or place? To a specific incident or exposure? … NO, but I can assure you that he had hundreds of oppurtunity to contract this deadly diease.

I was Big Dave’s Captain for several years. Before my promotion, in 2000 I was tempararly assigned to the position and detailed to Engine / Medic #3-A (the “Old” #3). That’s a picture of us above right. At the time, #3 was on of if not THE busiest company in the City. Some will argue that Station #5 ran more calls and I believe that to be true (I was also assigned to #5 for some time as Private). What the numbers don’t show is that Engine #5 was the sole extrication unit in the City (so they ran all MVC’s etc). The stats back then also did not reflect “working fires” and although #5 ran more calls, Engine / Medic #3 fought more fire.

Photo by Mike Overacker at

Now, as his friend and former Captain; I’ll be the first to tell ya that Big Dave was not overly excited about fighting fire. As a matter of fact, he  would have rathered not to  have had to.  It wasn’t his “cup of tea” … maybe even a little outside of his comfort zone.

It’s not what he was brought up doing BUT HE DID IT.

He did it the best he could. I was a young and agressive Captain with high expectations and standards and Big Dave was the Senior man. He came up as a Medic and back then, Fire and EMS were two seperate Departments. He didn’t know what a “Senior Man”  WAS much less the responsibilities attached to that position. We were brought together due to a merger…. fire and EMS.  Firemen were then forced to do EMS work (that they knew nothing about and didn’t want to do in the first place) while EMTs and Paramedics were placed in situations where they had to fight fire.

HUGE obsticiles for both sides (we are still seeing / feeling the affects of the “merger” even today) but Dave adapted just fine. There were times when I could have choked him (or he could have strangled me) but together, we learned how to make our company work. I don’t know the numbers but I ran countless medical calls with Big Dave. He was a GREAT Medic. He worked at a “pace” (his own) but it was methodical. We had code saves, delivered babies and even sent a few to the morgue. I dare say there weren’t many variations of calls that Dave hadn’t run. And he did fight some fire. Like I said … he WAS at #3 and with me.

We went through a few doors together. Sometimes I’d have to push … other times I humped a little hose and watched with pride. The fires always went out.

Dave loved to come out of a job and see how his helmet looked. The more smoke and char, the better (and we were not sitting there cooking gear).  It was a badge of honor for him … he could show (or look at it and know) that he had “been there”.

When he was forced to retire, Dave wanted his helmet. Unfortunately, the Department couldn’t allow it so it was collected and  placed on a shelf to be re-issued. He wanted to pass it along to his son Michael but that wasn’t to be.

The good news here is that the helmet was never re-issued. It was still sitting on that shelf and someone thought enough to get it and present it to the family during the graveside services. Even though Dave didn’t get to hand it over with a ton of stories to go along, his son Mikey is now in posession of thathelmet. Maybe a few of us who worked with Dave can someday share a helmet story or two with Mikey.

 Big Dave had 26 yrs with our Department and 36 years total in service of his fellow man.

His funeral was fitting of his service … I only wish it had been attended by more.

There were several agencies represented. Big Dave worked as a Paramedic Preceptor for a local college, worked part time as an instructor and transport Medic for a private company and more.

They all stood by his grave. LifeGuard 10 (our local medivac) even did a “fly by” for the funeral.

The procession was filled with apparatus and rigs from around the area.

In the lead was our old Engine … a 1991 Grumman … Engine #3.

This rig is now a reserve piece but she was a hell of a ride in her day.

Ironiclly, Dave’s last assignment was at the new #3 on B-shift. He had also  been assigned to station #10 ( the Airport station)  for a stint between the old and new #3.

Old Engine 3 wasn’t the only thing that caught my eye during the services.


Once again, our Honor Guard did an exceptional job!

By his casket inside the funeral home or at graveside,  our Honor Guard served flawlessly. Their service and the performance of their duties had to make an impression on the family .. it always does on me…. WELL DONE boys!

I wont try to list all the names this time and I’m sure they didn’t do it for the reconition anyway.

Here are a few more photos  …..



More photos and story on

Obituary and more also on VaFireNews  HERE

My company was part of the service but had to remain “in service” (that’s why we are in Class “B” uniform vs. Class “A”). We positioned our Engine at the last intersection prior to reaching the cemetary. We stood at attention  in front of the rig and saluted as the procession passed by.

I wasn’t there for his first but watched as Big Dave Palmer took his last ride in the city. I hold several fond memories of our time together with a great crew at the best house in town … may he rest in peace.

Stay Safe and in House!

Captain Wines

  • Condolences brother, my deepest to Dave’s family, to his friends and to his brothers at R.F.D.

  • Tommy Warshaw

    My condolences to his family and the department. May he rest in peace.

  • Disgusted


    That’s what a brand new Cairns Metro 660C in Standard NFPA compliant configuration costs.

    This man gave 26 years to the department, in the end he essentially gave his life.

    He asked for his helmet so that he could give it to his son with Autism and the department says “NO”, so they can re-issue it?

    If a man quits abruptly, or leaves on bad terms I could see the logic in keeping the helmet. However for a man/woman to dedicate decades of service and leave with an honorable retirement or pay the ultimate sacrifice and deny that person/family the helmet they wore for years as a token of their service is in my opinion shameful and inexcusable.

    To some FD members it may be just a piece of plastic composite, I feel sorry for those folks. To others, and what I believe would be the majority it is more than a helmet. It’s what I put on my head my first day on the job and the guys filled it with baking powder. Its what I wore on my first fire, scared to death my Captain shoving me through the door. Its what I collected money in for the MDA or a local charity. Its what I painstakingly and proudly painted when I was promoted through the ranks. Its what the Chief patted me on when I did a good job. Its what I let countless kids put on their heads as their eyes lit up with joy during PR events.

    Its what I hope to give to my children as some small memento when i’m called home. Maybe as a keepsake, or maybe as some sort of apology…a “i’m sorry” for missing those birthdays, those Christmases, your basketball games…because of my job. I’m sorry for missing those, but I was out there doing good. That’s where those scratches came from, those burn marks, that tear in the decal, I was helping people.

    To some of us, its more than just a “department issued piece of personal protective ensemble.”

    You can pry mine out of my cold dead fingers or deduct the $209.00 from my last paycheck.

  • arlene

    David Palmer is going to be missed big time! He always kept a smile going and an awesome attitude no matter how crazy or busy the day was. God have by his side an Awesome Angel! My Prayers and Thoughts are with the The Palmer Family. He is not in pain anymore, He is cure and more important He is always in our heart.

    Always in our hearts…Keep the Beautiful and Happy Smile!


    Arlene (Patient Access at RMH)

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