Dunham remembers fallen firefighter

MICHELE NEWBANKS The Marietta Times Dunham Volunteer Fire Chief Ernie Hoschar shows a plaque that was added to the new addition of the Dunham Volunteer Fire Department in memory of Dustin Schwendeman, who died in the line of duty in January 2002. LODD is a reference to a line of duty death. Schwendeman was 26 when he died.

The Dunham Volunteer Fire Department will be honoring one of their fallen firefighters during their ice cream social on Saturday evening.

A recently-completed addition to the fire station will be dedicated in the memory of Dustin “Dusty” Michael Schwendeman, who died in the line of duty on Jan. 22, 2002.

Dunham VFD Fire Chief Ernie Hoschar was working that day and remembers it well.

“He was 26 years old when the incident happened. We’d been called for mutual aid on a structure fire in Little Hocking. He was responding from his house when he hit an icy spot and lost control,” Hoschar explained. “He got ejected out of the sunroof. He didn’t have his seat belt on. They took him to Marietta Memorial, where they life-flighted him to Columbus. He succumbed to his injuries the next day.”

Reports note that Schwendeman’s vehicle struck an embankment before it rolled three times, landing back on its wheels.

“Barlow (VFD) got the call. He lived in Dunham Township but had to go through Barlow Township to get to (the Dunham fire station),” Hoschar explained. “(Barlow) got the call on the wreck, but of course we heard the call. We were at the fire down at Little Hocking.”

Schwendeman had been with the fire department for eight years, joining when he was 18. At the time of his death, he was president of the business side of the organization, Hoschar said. He was a 1996 graduate of Washington State Community College with a degree in business and began working at the Schwendeman Agency in 1999.

Hoschar said there are only four or so firefighters still at the station who were there when Schwendeman was president, but he is remembered as being a dedicated, friendly person.

“I knew Dusty for a few years. He was really committed. He was a typical life-time volunteer fireman,” fellow firefighter Garry Cheuvront remembered, noting Schwendeman was the person who got him to become a firefighter.

“He was going door-to-door selling tickets and got to talking about serving on the fire department,” Cheuvront said. “I went down there the next week and I’ve been there ever since.”

Hoschar remembers Schwendeman as giving and helpful to everyone.

“He was a super guy, a good friend to the guys at the fire house,” he added. “He’d do anything for you. He was giving. He had a horse business and showed horses. He was talking all the time about having activities for the kids.”

His fellow firefighters weren’t aware of it at the time, but Schwendeman was also a giving person after his death. He was an organ donor.

“There’s at least one of his organ recipients who’s going to speak on Saturday,” Hoschar said.

He was friends with Schwendeman outside of the fire station, so discussing him even 17 years later is difficult.

“It was a tough situation. It still is for me,” he said. “We had a friendship away from here. He’d do anything for anybody without them asking. He always had a smile on his face. It’s kind of hard for me to talk about.”

Schwendeman’s father, Michael, reminisced Tuesday about his son and said it “tickles him to death” that the fire company is memorializing Dusty.

“It means a lot to me that the community remembers him for his contributions,” he said. “There were really three passions in his life: the continuation of the Schwendeman Agency, his passion for horses, and his endeavor to help people and serve on the fire department.”

The fire chief was at a ‘train the trainer’ seminar a few years ago with 10 or 12 other fire chiefs when he was abruptly reminded of the tragedy.

“I was sitting in the class that day and the PowerPoint came up and there was his Tahoe and a diagram of where he laid,” Hoschar remembered. “I didn’t even say anything. I just sat there. I don’t know if they even put two and two together.”

He said the presenter didn’t realize Hoschar knew about that particular crash.

Thankfully, deaths in the line of duty are “pretty sparse,” he said, but it’s a lot different when it’s a member of your fire station.

That’s a big reason why the two new bays at the fire station are being dedicated to Schwendeman, although the $200,000 addition has been in the planning stages for several years, the chief said. With a couple of new pieces of equipment, the department was outgrowing the station. The new bays were opened three weeks ago, Hoschar said, and currently house two tanker trucks. He said the fire station is an independent company that contracts with the township and the funding for the addition was from contract levy money.

If you go:

• What: Dedication of fire station addition during during ice cream social.

• Where: Dunham Volunteer Fire Department on Veto Road.

• When: Saturday between 6 and 6:30 p.m.

• Who: Dustin “Dusty” Schwendeman is being remembered for dedication to the fire station.

Source: Dunham VFD.