Volunteer fire chief succumbs to burns 22 days after battling Alabama blaze

The first call Ward Volunteer Fire Department firefighter Dexter Reeves saw on March 3 was to send the engine to a prairie fire along Bunkum Road in the Alabama hamlet. And the second was an ambulance request.

“Well, when I heard the ambulance was called, I knew I had to go to the address because I knew something had happened to someone,” said Reeves, 61. Coffee or Die Magazine. “I didn’t know it happened to my dad.”

The blaze had crept into the pants of acting fire chief Fredy Carrel Reeves, Dexter’s 85-year-old father. When more volunteers arrived, the man ignored his burns, drove about 8km to retrieve a fire engine, then returned to the scene.

Chief Reeves knew the route well. It was his own property that was burning. When he got home, he called an ambulance to come and help.

Fredy C. Reeves (far right) at the Ward Volunteer Fire Department which he founded four decades ago. Photo courtesy of Jessica Dimasi.

“He had severe burns,” said Fredy Reeves’ granddaughter, Jessica Dimasi. “I mean, some of his burns were in his muscles and his legs. He was burned from, like, almost his ankle to almost his hip on his left leg. That kind of trauma would have been hard on anyone, let alone someone nearing 86.

Dexter Reeves never hit the fire. When he was about 15 miles from the scene, the Sumter County Sheriff‘s Office told him the ambulance had already left for the hospital. Young Reeves saw the ambulance on the road and started following it. He waited in the emergency room until they brought his father in.

“I need to talk to him for a few seconds,” Dexter said. “I told him that everything was fine, that the fire was out. “We just have to take care of you. »

The father told the son he had made a terrible mistake. The son told the father that everything was fine. Their brief exchange was probably the last good conversation they had, the son later said.

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Jessica Dimasi is flanked by Ann and Fredy Reeves. Photo courtesy of Jessica Dimasi.

Fredy C. Reeves died 22 days after the bushfire burned him. Doctors transferred him to JMS Burns and Reconstruction Centerr at Merit Health Central in Jackson, Mississippi, and the old man’s condition seemed to improve. But then he stopped responding to treatments.

The last words Dexter Reeves whispered to his father were “Dad, you fought your last fire. We will take up the torch. He thinks that’s all his father needed to hear to “go see the Lord” and Ann Reeves, Dexter’s mother. She had died a dozen years earlier.

Dimasi said his “Mawmaw” and “Pawpaw” never “got mad at God, ever”. And their example also led her to Christ. She said dad, a Gideon and laity for The United Methodist Churchwould like everyone to know that he was “Jesus’ best friend”.

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Fredy C. Reeves (center, wearing a pith hat) spent a quarter century as a forester for the American Can Co. Photo courtesy of Jessica Dimasi.

Fredy Carrel Reeves was born on April 3, 1936, in Crestview, Florida, to Jesse Rudolph and Vallie (née Helms) Reeves.

Fredy Reeves married Ann Radcliffe in 1957, and they moved to Ward in 1963. He worked as a forester for the American Can Co. for a quarter of a century, but he is perhaps best known in Ward for founding the village volunteer fire department four decades ago.

Dexter Reeves said coffee or die that it all started when a forest fire threatened a local caravan on the west side of town. He and his father ended up fighting the fire with a garden hose. They couldn’t call a fire truck.

About 18 months later, he and his father had built a “homemade fire truck.” He remembers it only held 250 gallons of water, “but it was better than nothing.” Soon after, Alabama officials traveled to Ward to give its firefighters the training they needed to be certified as an official volunteer operation.

“At that time, me and my mom and dad took classes in house fire fighting and wildfires and stuff like that for about two years,” Dexter said.

Dimasi said it was not unusual for his grandfather to remain active in the department, even at age 85. She said he also continued to work in the sawmill in his house. Even when his loved ones told him it was time to retire, he told them, “It’s the only thing keeping me alive,” she says.

“God bless his heart, if he was alive right now, he’d be like ‘Okay, let’s go!’ He wouldn’t slow down at all,” added his son, Dexter.

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Fredy C. Reeves (right) at his home sawmill in Ward, Alabama. Photo courtesy of Jessica Dimasi.

Fredy Carrel Reeves was buried March 30 at Cokes Chapel Cemetery in Ward, following a funeral service at Bumpers Funeral Home in York.

He was predeceased by his parents, wife, sister and three brothers. He is survived by his brothers Wayne and Johnny; his children, Randy, Dexter and Carol Ann; and her grandchildren, Jessica, Tommy, Kristy, Andy, Megan, Melissa and Shannon.

So far in 2022, 36 firefighters nationwide have been killed on duty, according to the United States Fire Administration.

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