By Ed Dolan
Over the last two decades, the volunteer fire service has had some challenges and changes. Both are to be expected over time. If we were to model someone to be the best version of us, as the volunteer fire service, who would it be? A father of two young boys, who in our ranks and as one of his last acts called a Mayday that saved a fellow firefighter’s life while giving his own? We have a job for everyone in our organizations. However, the interior firefighter is the backbone of our critical mission of saving lives and property. Fallen Spring Valley (NY) Volunteer Firefighter Jared Lloyd and his brother firefighters are a fine heroic example of today’s volunteer firefighters at their best.
In the early morning of March 23, 2021, in Spring Valley, New York, volunteer firefighters had no idea that by the next morning they would have given their all on the fireground—and lost a brother in the process. This night would see acts of extreme bravery by members of Spring Valley fire and all their mutual aid partners. The actions of this night underscore what it means when you take your oath as a firefighter. This is exactly what Ben Franklin must have envisioned as he understood the importance of having a volunteer fire department to save life and property: citizens giving protection to the communities in which they live when called upon.
The densely populated village of Spring Valley is located about 20 miles north of New York City in Rockland County. It is a two-square mile village with a population over 30,000. This is a larger population than Kingston and Newburgh, New York, both of which have career departments. Like the rest of Rockland County, Spring Valley is all volunteer. Running more than 1,100 fire calls annually, the members of Spring Valley get a few dozen working fires a year. Spring Valley is where Jared Lloyd called home. He proudly served with the Columbian Engine Company.
At 12:53 a.m., the alarm was transmitted for a smell of smoke in the building. On the first-due engine from Spring Valley Fire was Chauffeur Conjura, Lieutenant Hill, Firefighter Scott, Lloyd, and Firefighter Cich. They along with others were about to have a life-changing experience that no firefighter would ever want to be part of.
They pulled up on an advanced fire in an assisted living facility with many victims trapped inside. The crew did what we all would do—go into rescue and suppression mode. Jared Lloyd and fellow Firefighter Eric Cich, who both were on the first-due piece, searched and removed victim after victim on the first and second floors. Together they each swapped bottles out and returned to work; there were people that still need to be rescued. They headed up to the third floor, locating an unconscious victim. With the help of others, Lloyd and Cich began to rescue the victim.
Somehow, with absolutely zero visibility and the intense heat, things became complicated. While removing the victim Cich heard Lloyd call a Mayday. Around this time, Cich himself ran out of air. Upon hearing the Mayday called, Firefighter Dan Murray, who was on a fire escape near where the Mayday was given, made entry to the third floor. He knew the second floor has fire venting and the third-floor hallway he was entering has heavy black smoke pumping with no visibility. Crawling down the hallway, searching for the Mayday, he ran his gloved hand over Firefighter Cich and dragged him out, thinking that he grabbed the Mayday.
When members had moved Cich to safety, he was able to tell them in a few gasps that he was not the Mayday. Murray went back in and within seconds found an unconscious victim. At this point, Murray thought to himself: “Man, this could be it.” The extreme heat and exhaustion was taking its toll on him. Murray, as a decathlon runner and career firefighter, couldn’t believe the exhaustion he was experiencing. He managed to grab the victim and exited the third floor. At this point, the third floor is now untenable. A short time later the building collapses, and the heroic name of Firefighter Jared Lloyd is forever etched in Spring Valley history.
This is a very condensed version of the events that night. Many brothers did the same as these three did, rescuing victim after victim. Firefighter Cich and Lieutenant Hill would have to be transported to the hospital from injuries sustained during rescues. One can listen to the detailed, chilling audio online along with dramatic pictures.
What does it take for a volunteer to be ready when the worst situations arise? What are the ingredients to make firefighters like this? How can we operate at such a high level? It’s simple—follow the example Firefighter Jared Lloyd has set for us, as the volunteer fire service.
Among the major forces driving people to become volunteer firefighters are desire, compassion, love of fellow man, camaraderie, and the feeling of being on a winning team. Why else would any rational, sane person give so much of themselves for no pay, pension, or benefits? Firefighter Lloyd showed all these traits.
Training and Conditioning
At calls where we experience those “Oh, no” moments, instinct, training, and muscle memory kick in. We have no time to debate tactics or the next move, especially when working in a small group or alone to effect a positive outcome. Your mind and body must be trained and conditioned to be effective in these nightmarish situations. That means making drill nights, continuing your fire service education, having a workout routine, eating a proper diet, and taking your mental health seriously.
Being a Team Player
An ego isn’t needed in the fire service. You never succeed alone. If you are driving down the road, spot a house on fire, and pull over and rescue Ms. Smith all by yourself, a team still helped you. Who prepared you for that moment? Many different mentors, instructors, officers and fellow firefighters you trained with throughout the years. When operating as part of a team on the fireground, know and do your job well. Your piece of the operation on the fireground is just as important as any other. If you fail to perform your piece, it can have very serious consequences for the entire operation. The standard must be success, which is why we practice until we have success. This is not a game; life and death are the consequences.
Firefighter Jared Lloyd, was a team player and always handled his piece of the action at a high level.
Yes, he served as a volunteer, but he prepared himself as if he worked in some of the busiest, best paid gigs going. His love of firefighting and motivation would not let him settle for mediocrity.
We tend to settle at times because we are volunteers. This is not a hobby. It’s a life-or-death calling we take on. We must remember to treat it as such and follow the example Firefighter Lloyd set preparing for that fateful night. When he and his teammates had to operate and handle their assigned task at the highest levels, they executed well. When tragedy strikes our own service, we need to learn from it.
At every alarm, learn at least one thing and carry it forward to prevent another tragedy. We owe it to the public, ourselves, and the brother who gave their all.
One of the things that I personally learned and take from this tragedy is how to navigate the New York State Health Department Web site. Looking at inspections of Adult Care Facilities for my first-due area. I also learned when they have been cited, the fire department is not notified of the citations.
Firefighter Jared Lloyd and his department gave the volunteer service an amazing example of what we can conquer and achieve by taking the calling seriously. If our departments and members follow the recipe above and include ingredients that pertain to your local area, you can bake one hell of a cake. That means success on your firegrounds.
I would like to thank Firefighter Eric Cich for opening up to us about his brother firefighter and that night, only weeks after the incident. He wanted us to know just how tight knit the Columbian Engine Company is; it contains a lot of relatives, members in each other’s weddings, godfathers to other kids, and on and on. They are now a family grieving together. As we spoke, he kept stressing the family-like love and atmosphere the company has. Unlike career guys, volunteers all live in very close proximity to one another. They grow up together, have kids in school together, and truly have amazingly strong bonds. The Columbian Engine Company is that and more.
I would also, would like to thank Firefighter Dan Murray, who, has 30 years of experience in a major career department along with his volunteer work. According to his candid assessment, outside of 9/11, this was the most rescues and heroics he has witnessed and been part of.
To Chief Kenny Conjura and the Spring Valley fire department team, outstanding work. Your dedication, training, teamwork, and love for the public and each other paid huge dividends. What an absolute wonderful soul firefighter Lloyd is for all those he saved. May his spirit ride out with your company on every call, keeping a watchful eye on your fine group.
Ed Dolan has been a chief officer for 16 of his 29 years with the Catskill (NY) Fire Department. For 18 of his 28 years with the New York State Thruway Authority, he has been responsible for specific geographical areas for maintenance operations and emergency response between New York City and Albany.