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Lanier County, GA (WALB) - The small town of Stockton is mourning the loss of a dedicated volunteer firefighter, Derek North, who was killed in a wreck while responding to a call. His brother was seriously injured.
Other firefighters say his death should remind all of us to watch out for and yield to emergency vehicles.
A flag flies at half-staff at a small Stockton fire station. Monday, volunteer fireman Derek North was killed in a wreck as he responded to a call.
Derek and his brother Chad were dispatched from just before 4:00. They were responding to what had been reported as an out-of-control fire. We now know that fire was actually a controlled burn.
At the intersection of highway 84 and highway 129, Chad North had to swerve to avoid west-bound traffic on 84 that apparently did not yield to the sirens. The truck spun out of control and rolled over. Chad suffered a neck injury and is in fair condition at South Georgia Medical Center. Derek was killed.
"It was determined that the cause of death was a severe head trauma during the accident--the roll-over," said Lanier County Fire Chief Gary Yeomans.
Other volunteer firefighters say cars that don't get out of the way put them in danger. Fire trucks are often loaded with tons of water and equipment and can't maneuver quickly.
"If you have to swerve out of the way of somebody, that water's going to carry the momentum and just like this one, it could happen very tragically," said Volunteer Firefighter James Faulkner.
The accident may also have been avoided if the North brothers knew the fire was a prescribed burn, and not an emergency. Currently, controlled burns are only reported to the Georgia Forestry Department.
"The Forestry Department, people notify them that they're doing a prescribed burn, but the dispatch center has no way of knowing," said Volunteer Firefighter Rick Pennock.
While firefighters encourage citizens to always report fires, they say a bit more communication would help prevent false alarms.
"That would be wonderful if they had an inter-department radio or a mutual-aid channel," said Volunteer Firefighter John Strickland. "That way, when they've got a controlled burn, before we're actually dispatched, they could actually contact forestry and find out if there's a controlled burn in that area."
For now, firefighters are relying on one another to cope with the loss.
"It almost leaves a hole in your heart," said Faulkner.
Derek North will be respected as a fireman, and remembered as a hero. Fellow firemen say he was as dedicated as they come, as was the rest of his family.
Five members of the North family, including Derek's wife and father, serve as volunteers for the Stockton Fire Department.