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- General Interest
When Eastern Douglas County Fire Rescue instituted a Junior Fire Fighter Program, it was with some trepidation on my part. Having raised two sons, I knew how problematic teenagers could be, and fire fighting is a serious, dangerous business. Our first two juniors, Matt Hammett and Guy Mullenack, proved to be the exception to the rule. However, both moved on, Guy moving out of the area, and Matt, when he turned 18, became a regular fire fighter. A bit later, Matt’s younger brother Adam joined the program followed by Levi Keller.
It was obvious from the start that Levi’s primary motivation was the desire to help people, to be there for his neighbors. He made every training session, showed up for every call-out, if he was available, made all the workdays at the department, and took classes sponsored by Missouri University and Air Evac Lifeteam. Levi had made a conscious decision to give up many ‘teenage’ things. He was passionate about the fire service and all that it entailed. Did he do ‘kid’ things? Sure, he was a ‘kid’, however a certain maturity and character rapidly surfaced. He wanted to be in the thick of things, where the action was, so was he happy about being assigned to direct traffic a half mile down the road from an accident scene, or to roll what must have looked like miles of fire hose? I think not, but he did it and never complained. In fact all the mundane, boring things that so much of the fire service entails just got done. Did he like my occasional not-so-polite corrections or critique of something he had done or not done, again I doubt it. Nevertheless, he listened and made the adjustment.
Being a teenager meant that every so often, he had to be reminded that he did not know it all. I remember getting a wide grin the afternoon I told him, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts”. His growing maturity showed through one evening when I overheard a couple of his less mature, smart-aleck friends tease him over his ‘outfit’. I wanted to grab them and shake them until their teeth rattled, Levi just shrugged it off.
He was very rapidly becoming someone I was looking forward to having as a full-fledged fire fighter. He was involved in his first real structure fire on Saturday afternoon. Mother Nature with her excessive heat that day and the hard work of wrestling a hose line around took a lot of the vinegar out of him. He was, however, one of the last to leave the scene, after all the gear had been packed up, the trucks refueled, and the booster tanks topped off with water.
This all came to a tragic end a little before 10:00 PM Sunday night, in the blink of an eye. On his way home from a girlfriend house in Norwood, with only a few miles to go, Levi died of injuries he sustained when his vehicle left the roadway and struck two trees.
What an absolute crying shame.
John T. Stanton, Chief
Eastern Douglas County Fire Rescue