SAN BENITO, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Across the United States on Sunday, many communities have lowered flags to pay respect and to memorialize 148 fallen firefighters, including a fire chief from San Benito who died from complications of COVID-19.
The gesture is part of a weekend of observances organized by the National Firefighters Memorial Service that concludes Sunday. The 41st annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend has been a time for sharing, healing, and commemorating each firefighter’s commitment to public duty, organizers said.
“This national tribute honors the 148 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2021 and several who died in previous years,” the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation said. “Each firefighter’s name will be inscribed on a bronze plaque and become a permanent part of the National Memorial in honor of their sacrifices.”
Fire Chief Danny Dean Watkins, 67, of the San Benito Fire Department, died on Jan. 12, 2021, due to complications of COVID-19.
Watkins’ widow posted the following comments about her husband and his legacy on the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation website: “My husband served with courage, commitment, and character with the Houston Fire Department during his 34-year distinguished career. Graduating from the HFD Fire Academy at Houston Community College in October 1978, Danny pursued excellence throughout his career in his roles of firefighter, engineer operator, junior captain, senior captain, and district chief. After his career with HFD, he was given the opportunity to share his passion, experience, and love for firefighting with a new family of firefighters as the fire chief for the City of San Benito.”
She wrote that in November and December 2020, the coronavirus “began a rampant attack upon the firefighters of his department, leading ultimately to my husband’s line-of-duty diagnosis of this disease. COVID overtook his strength, but not his courage. His ‘last call’ came just after midnight on January 12, 2021.”
In Texas, including Watkins, 10 fallen fighters are being honored. The other nine are:
- Capt. Bryant Gregory Anderson, 45, of the City of Converse Fire Department, died on Aug. 18, 2020, due to complications of COVID-19.
- Driver/Engineer Stephen C. Collins, 49, of the Fort Worth Fire Department, died on Oct. 4, 2020, due to complications of cancer, deemed by the State of Texas to be in the line of duty.
- Firefighter/Paramedic Roger William Dean III, 31, of the Seguin Fire Department, died on April 23, 2021, due to complications of COVID-19.
- Assistant Chief Ross D. Estabrooks, 47, of the Tri-Lakes Volunteer Fire Department, died on Nov. 15, 2021. While at the scene of a residential fire, he suffered a heart attack and later died at the hospital.
- Firefighter James K. Hendricksen, 43, of the Pipe Creek Volunteer Fire Department, died Nov. 1, 2020, due to complications of COVID-19.
- Firefighter Danny Ireton, 61, of the Martin County Volunteer Fire Department, died on Aug. 4, 2021. While responding to a motor vehicle accident, the fire apparatus he was driving struck another vehicle, and he died.
- Firefighter Joseph Andrew Mitchell, 37, of the City of Converse Fire Department, died Dec. 11, 2020, due to complications of COVID-19.
- Firefighter/EMT Dylan B. Rodiek, 35, of the Jollyville Fire Department in Austin, died Aug. 16, 2021. After responding to multiple calls and physical fitness training within a 24 hour shift, he suffered a heart attack and passed.
- Captain Wesley Vandever, 86, of the Sugar Hill Volunteer Fire Department in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, died on Oct.27, 2021. While responding to a residential fire, he suffered a heart attack and later died at a hospital.
Sunday morning, families participated in the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The NFFF presented each fallen firefighter family with a badge, a rose, and an American flag flown over the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial and the U.S. Capitol.
A full list of firefighters being honored this year can be found on the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s website.