Mixed emotions

I’ve attended two funerals within a week ( a Funeral and a Memorial service).

First, Rhett (FireCritic.com) and I attended the “visitation” or Family night for fallen Boones Mill VFD Lt. John Echternach Jr.

Lt Echternach became the 46th LODD (Line Of Duty Death) in the United States for 2012, he was the 3rd in Virginia for the year.

He was killed June 29, 2012 while assisting a motorist during the severe storm (derecho) that tore through SW Virginia. You can read more and find various links by clicking HERE .

What I didn’t write about in that post was the survivors. By that, obviously; I mean his family but that also includes his Fire Department Family.

The Boones Mill Volunteer Fire Department has had a very rough road here of late.

Just in the last 30 days, they have responded to multiple traumatic fatalities and then had to respond to one of their own. Without the loss of their Brother, these type of incidents alone can be difficult to see /  handle. When you add a LODD, it can become unbearable…. that was my first concern.

In the link above, I wrote that Lt. Echternach’s death hit “close to home”. One of the reasons I didn’t mention was / is my relationship with the Boones Mill Chief, Riley Peters.

Riley is a retired Captain from the job (Roanoke fire/EMS October 2009 ), he was my Dad’s Captain for a while. Our relationship off the job (if we ever really are “off” the job) was closer than while on. We shared a business, a hobby and spent most every weekend together.

I call him by his old firehouse nick name, “Big Joe” and consider him family. I mentioned his retirement in an old post from the “Melrose Misfit” days Here.

While on the job in the City, Big Joe tested for Battalion Chief year after year. He always tested well but, for whatever reason; never received the promotion. That was a shame.

Following his retirement, he joined the Boones Mill Volunteer Fire Department and soon made Chief, not Battalion but Chief of Department. Obviously, the position carries a lot of responsibility.

Some guys snickered saying “ole Riley finally made Chief” … well, the jokes on them because Riley has made a GREAT Chief for Boones Mill ( I wish he would have gotten the same chance in the City … he would have been great to work for).

When I first learned of Lt.  Echternach’s death, I called “Big Joe” to check on his and the mental state of his members. He, along with the Franklin County Department of Public Safety; had already called in a CISD (Critical Incident Stress Debriefing) team for a debriefing and had others planned.

These types of meetings / sessions are designed specifically for the mental health (well being) of the members. Big Joe was on top of it. It’s been apparent to me ( as I expected) that Chief Peters’ main focus has been on the family of Lt Echternach, and the members of BMVFD (as it should have been).  What has worried me is who’s been looking after “Big Joe”?

I can’t imagine the stress. Everything he is having / had to deal with and no time to grieve from himself. It’s been all about the Family, all about the members (again, as it should be), gotta get this done, coordinate this, notify this agency, file this report etc. A lot of which I’m sure he’s never had to do before.

I’ve talked to him several times since the Funeral and he seems to be doing fine. I actually called him just this morning. He says that there are several others (beyond me) checking in on him and he is very appreciative.

Big Joe is a Fireman’s Fireman and it’s difficult to read his emotions (even for me). I may have to just go kidnap him and get off somewhere with a couple of cold beers. My emotions are mixed in that I’m concerned that he hasn’t had the time or chance to grieve .. to vent. Beyond that, I’m also proud … VERY PROUD  of the job he’s done and how he’s handled these difficult times.

To me, it shows the professionalism,  of not just Big Joe (Chief Peters) but also of the Boones Mill Volunteer Fire Department and the Franklin County Department of Public Safety.  It’s Pride, Honor, Tradition, Respect and Brotherhood at it’s finest … WELL DONE BROTHERS….. WELL DONE!

The 2nd funeral I attended was that of my 2nd cousin, US Army 1st Lt Chase Prasnicki.

Chase was killed in Afghanistan less than 4 days after he arrived. He was 24 years old and had been married for only 7 months.

John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

Chase was a HERO in all aspects of the word. Read “Another Funeral” HERE.

More coverage of the funeral from local News HERE and HERE .

Again, I found myself saddened, but also honored. It’s difficult for me to explain but I’ll try to give ya a sense of it.

You see, I really didn’t know Chase, he was 20 years my junior. My family owned a piece of land with a cabin on Panther Mountain. That’s where a lot of the boys (and some of the girls) of the family learned our “life lessons” as kids / young adults. I have some GREAT memories of that cabin and my time on the mountain. I’m sure all my cousins do as well …. we were ALL there at one time or another.

Chase was just born when I moved from Rockbridge County to Roanoke. By the time he was running the mountain, I was pulling 24’s in the Fire Department. That said, I knew his mother and grandparents well … we were family.

Like most of you, I have been saddened at the news of our soldiers killed in action….not just Chase, all of them.  Saddened but with a sense of understanding. They were in the Armed Forces … they expected to go to battle and hopefully understood the sacrifices they may have been asked to give. Signing up was their 1st act of bravery. That said, I’ve often asked myself “why” and hope that their deaths were not in vein but the honest answer is that I’m really not sure.

The Funeral was humbling. I wore my Class A’s and stood shoulder to shoulder with some real HEROS. Every soldier there had a chest full of medals in honor of their sacrifice and service. The Church was packed and many folks lined the sidewalks to hear the service over a loud speaker.

I ended up taking the Buckaroo with me. We stood along the aisle so that others could sit. He was VERY well behaved. It was almost as if he knew we were at something “special”. We stood between a “Full Bird” Colonel and a Captain. They kept a keen eye on my little fella as he stood in front of me, holding my hat and paying attention to the happenings. It was a long service and a difficult stand. I’m proud to endured that along side so many great men.

The procession to the grave side was even more humbling. I’m not sure if it was because I was “back home” (in the country) or if it was because of Chase’s service but the vehicles traveling in the other direction even pulled over to the right and stopped as we passed (even on the 4 lane highway, Route 11).  We just don’t see that here in the City and I had forgotten the “respect” often shown in smaller towns. People were standing in their yards or place of business along the way, holding signs or the American flag …. children and adults …. it brought tears to my eyes to see this type of patriotism, honor and respect.

Back at home, I received several e-mails and comments offering condolences etc and I’d like to take a moment to say THANK YOU.

Two e-mails in particular  touched me deeply and I’d like to share parts of those with you.

The first one came from a good friend and Brother Bill Carey (Backstep Firefighter , Fire/EMS Blogs, Firefighter Nation etc). Here’s what he shared with me in part ….

“Immediately after reading that the services are to be held in Lexington I recalled this quote from General Thomas Jackson. I treasure no other historical figure of our nation’s military more that Jackson; his book or maxims is a true value to everyone, especially those in leadership positions. When asked by Captain Imboden abut fearing his own death, Jackson replied

“Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. Captain, that is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.” “

 Bill continued to say …

“To try and speak this to younger generations, especially those in the fire service, it is futile at best. Jackson did not mean to live his life in a fatalistic, laissez-faire attitude, but that he had a religious conviction, deeply grounded, unwavering, that applied not to “the cause” or the military, but to his own personal life. Whether it is old age and blissful retirement or just shy of four days in Afghanistan, may we all have the resolve to ready, to live equally brave, walk safe and live with conviction in what we set out to do, much like your second cousin.”

 WOW! and that’s not even the entire e-mail. I can’t THANK Bill enough for his words and hope he doesn’t mind my sharing them with you … they were so powerful and touched me so that I couldn’t help but share them.

Another Brother and friend, Matt VanGiesen also took the time to send me a note. He said (in part) …

“I write this with tears welling in my eyes, for I truly understand the painful journey your family is on. My tears, born of sorrow, also flow with great pride as our country buries another HERO. It is because of great men like Chase that my family and I lie safely in our beds at night… I know that my words can not heal the pain, but offer them I must.”

Matt included THIS LINK to a post he published on his blog “Just a Vollie

As always, THANKS for following. If you’d like, you can follow the site on Face Book by CLICKING HERE.

I’m back on duty tomorrow and have a post already lined up … you won’t want to miss this one! Until I get back to ya…. stay SAFE and in House.

Captain Wines