The Big Tree Volunteer Fire Company lost one of its best last week. Jarrett Eleam, big and outgoing, was the first member in Big Tree's 74-year history to die in the line of duty. He became stricken after a training exercise and was declared dead at Mercy Hospital two days later.
His fellow volunteers will miss him. They described Eleam, 26, as a guy easy to know, easy to like. He was transplanted here from Pittsburgh, after he met a woman from Erie County and moved to the area. He fell in quickly with the other firefighters.
"As soon as you meet him, you love him," Fire Chief Ed Hughes said. In just 18 months with the Big Tree Fire Company he had become one of its top 10 responders to calls and had just been installed as a lieutenant in charge of fire prevention.
Eleam became ill after an exercise in which the firefighters donned a breathing apparatus, then crawled through a maze, to simulate the searches that occur during a structure fire. The state Labor Department will look into the tragedy.
His death provides a reminder that firefighting presents intense physical demands, even during the many hours of training that volunteers endure. Flames and smoke need not be present. No one should take for granted the risks they face.
Firefighters are a family. They bleed together, they grieve together. Big Tree's volunteers are hurting right now, just like Eleam's family in Pittsburgh. Will you keep them all in your thoughts and prayers?