Junior firefighter's death a blow to the community

The Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Company lost one of its own last week, when 17-year-old junior firefighter Justin Townsend was killed in a single-car accident while responding to a brush fire.

“The brave men and women who served with him in this department have lost one of their brothers,” said Matt Gajdos of the Dagsboro fire company. “While losing a member is something that a fire department hopes never happens, the reality is it can happen and has happened right here in the town of Dagsboro, Del. We must now work through the grieving process as we honor a life cut too short.”

This is indeed a great loss for the department, as it would be for any fire company. Firefighters risk their lives and well-being on a day-to-day basis to protect the lives and property of others. They depend on each other, not just to accomplish the task before them, but also to watch each other’s backs. They are usually tight-knit and close because their lives literally depend on one another.

This is also a significant loss to the community at Sussex Technical High School, where Townsend was a junior taking classes in the school’s collision repair program, as well as participating as a cadet in the school’s JROTC program. Much like the students and staff at Indian River High School were devastated by the loss of one of their students a few weeks ago, those at Sussex Tech face real loss now.

And, make no mistake about it, this is also a huge loss for the community in general. This was a young man dedicated to service, as evidenced by his involvement in the fire company and JROTC. We never had the opportunity to meet him here at the paper, but what we’ve heard, we’ve appreciated. And all of you should appreciate his efforts, as well. All too often we hear people bemoaning the youth of this nation and fretting for our future. Townsend was a bright light that should make every generation proud.

Where does the Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Company go from here? Well, they will mourn. And they will feel pain. And then they will go back out to serve Dagsboro and any other area that requires their help, because that’s what firefighters do. And we should all be thankful that’s what firefighters do.

Townsend was the first firefighter to be killed in the line of duty in Delaware since 2009. His loss extends past our direct community and through every firehouse in this state, if not the country.

“It was a tragic loss that we’re all feeling,” said Warren Jones, executive manager of the Delaware Volunteer Firefighter’s Association. “Any time you lose a firefighter it’s always a tragic and severe loss to us, especially someone of Justin’s age. He was just beginning to become a major part of the Dagsboro fire department. He was a great young man.”

We mourn the loss of Justin Townsend and offer our sympathies to his friends and family, classmates and fellow firefighters at the Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Company. We lost a good one.