A dark day in the History of the Roanoke Fire Department

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This was a dark day in the history of the Roanoke Fire Department. A dark day that has luckily not been seen since that day. On this day 20 years ago 2 firefighters lost their lives doing their job. Captain Robert Gale Cassell and Firefighter Harvey H. Helm of Engine Company #12 were killed by a hit and run driver. The men were on scene of an automobile fire on Shenandoah Avenue. the woman who’s car was on fire was also killed in the accident.

The driver of the car who murdered these three people was found later charged and convicted. He was driving under the influence.

These firefighters were doing their jobs. At the time they weren’t doing anything heroic, exceptional, or out of the ordinary. Most people would think that what they were doing was not dangerous at all. That just isn’t the case. Operating at the scene of MVA’s (motor vehicle accidents) is very dangerous. Drivers attention is taken away from the task of driving when they see an accident and they focus on seeing what happened. This often causes rubbernecking. My point is two fold; 1) For you firefighters out there – you need to remain aware of what is going on around you and take every precaution in making the scene as safe as possible, and 2) For you drivers out there – pay attention to what you are doing, you wouldn’t believe how many firefighters and EMT’s are killed on the scene of accidents where they are doing their jobs.

Harvey Helm

These two Line of Duty Deaths (LODD) are the last in the history of the Roanoke Fire Service. Hopefully this trend will continue. Every day Fire Departments across the Nation are arming themselves with more training, better equipment, better SOP’s to make our jobs safer. The Roanoke Fire-EMS Department should be commended for its history of keeping its firefighters safe and doing the most important job of all, making sure we all go home in the morning.

There is a Fallen Firefighter Memorial for Roanoke City Firefighters located at the Transportation Museum. The online history which contains information on this LODD as well as the others can be found here.

So here is to you Captain Cassell and Firefighter Helm. We admire the lives you led and the ultimate sacrifice you gave. We will never forget you or any of the Fallen Firefighters.

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