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Fallen firefighter to be honored

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Zachary Whitacre

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Memorial service planned for Gore volunteer Zachary Whitacre who was killed in line of duty

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- The state plans to honor Zachary Whitacre as one of Virginia's fallen first-responders at an annual memorial service.

A local service is planned Saturday, but whether Whitacre will make the list for this year's memorial service remains unknown, according to Virginia Department of Fire Programs spokesman Mark Buff.

Whitacre, 21, of 218 Pugh Lane, Gore, died in a tanker truck crash early Monday morning while he and his father, Donald A. Whitacre Jr., responded to a house fire in West Virginia. The Whitacres volunteered as firefighters with the Gore Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company. State police in West Virginia blamed icy road conditions on U.S. 50 near Capon Bridge for the crash.

Zachary Whitacre's death brings to 60 the number of firefighters killed in the line of duty in Virginia since 1981, according to Buff, citing statistics from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

The state holds an annual memorial service for fallen fire services workers on the first Saturday in June in Richmond, according to Buff, the event's chairman.

"We are taking a look at the situation right now to see if we can incorporate Zachary into this year's service," Buff said. "Because we're so close to this year's service we may not be able to do that. But, if not this year, we would definitely honor him next year. It's too early for us to make a judgment yet.

"We'd like to include him, but there's a lot of logistics that go into the planning the service and we're now just a little over three months away from the actual service, so we're not sure at this point whether we can get everything pulled together in time to include him, but it's a possibility," Buff added.

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation holds a memorial service each October in Emmitsburg, Md. The service this year corresponds with deaths that occurred in 2011, so the foundation likely would include Zachary Whitacre in their memorial in 2013, Buff said. This year the service will add two Virginia names to the national memorial, raising the number of fallen firefighters from 57 to 59 in Virginia, according to Buff. Zachary Whitacre would make 60 if included this year.

The Alexandria Fire Department lost a paramedic in a line-of-duty death incident recently, according to Buff.

"So it's been kind of a rough week for the fire services community," Buff said.
Frederick County fire officials indicated at a Monday news conference on Whitacre's death that this marked the first of its kind they could remember for the local fire services community.

"These things happen more often than we'd like, but not as often as some people think," Buff said. "It's always a tragedy. We fortunately don't lose that many firefighters in a given year. You've got some localities that have never had a loss. It just depends on the nature of the incidents that occur in a particular area. It very well may be the first one they've ever had."

Virginia considers a line-of-duty death to have occurred if the worker dies while responding to an active incident, Buff said. Line-of-duty deaths can occur as a result of fire, smoke and collapsing structures but, in more cases, fire and rescue workers have died from heart attacks while responding to incidents, according to Buff.

The state also began honoring fire service workers whose deaths did not occur while in responding to an active incident but could be traced to the nature of their work even years later and for which they received a benefit, Buff said. These deaths, caused by respiratory illness, hypertension, and some forms of cancer, are still considered to be in the line of duty under the state's presumptive clause. Under this definition, the number of line-of-duty deaths recorded in Virginia since 1981 nearly doubles to close to 120, according to Buff.

Survivors can receive benefits at the state and national level, according to Buff. Virginia recently shifted the responsibility of funding line-of-duty death benefits to the localities. The state department will maintain its administration over the benefit program.

Visit www.firehero.org and www.vafire.org for more information.

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