Services for fallen volunteer Eagle Rock firefighter Roger Johns will be Thursday afternoon in the gym at James River High School.
Johns, 63, died tragically Friday afternoon while helping as a ground guide at a single-vehicle accident on US 220 at Catawba Creek Road south of Eagle Rock.
The incident has rocked the county’s volunteer and career fire and EMS crews, in particular the Eagle Rock Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad members who were already dealing with a debilitating injury to another volunteer who was helping with a flooding rescue less than a year ago.
“This accident reminds us once again that with any call, our firefighters risk their lives in service to our community,” County Administrator Gary Larrowe said.
Larrowe said condolences have come in from across the state and nation. He said Gov. Terry McAuliff’s office also called and ordered flags flown at half-staff to honor Johns.
It made for a tough first week for the county’s new Chief of Fire and EMS Matthew Britt.
Britt was scheduled to start Monday but found himself involved in the emotional aftermath of Friday’s accident.
“It’s a brotherhood and sisterhood we maintain,” Britt said of fire and EMS volunteers and career members, whether it’s someone you know or from another area.
That’s why he was helping plan on Monday for Thursday’s services at James River High School.
The county expects several hundred firefighters from not only the county, but around the state to attend. County officials have worked with the school division to provide school bus shuttles for those firefighters from the school to the cemetery in Eagle Rock.
“It wasn’t the first week I was hoping for,” Britt said. “But I’d rather be here and help out and be a part of this community doing this than not.”
According to Virginia State Police, Trooper A.C. Price is investigating the death. State Police reported that Johns was struck at 3:10 p.m. when a 55-year-old firefighter was backing up a fire department vehicle to block the roadway.
In a statement over the weekend, Botetourt officials said the county’s “Fire and EMS is mourning one of its own. In a community where neighbors help neighbors and everyone knows everybody, this accident makes a tragedy very personal for our volunteer and professional firefighters. Our focus at this time is on the well-being of the firefighter’s family and our dedicated team of volunteer and professional firefighters.”
The county also made counseling services available for “what is sure to be a long and difficult healing process.”
“I hope to work with the strong leadership and volunteers we have and guide ourselves out of this tragedy,” Britt said. “This goes to the family aspect of the business. A volunteer fireman can just as easily lose his life.”
Visitation is this evening, Wednesday, May 24 from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at Botetourt Funeral Home in Buchanan. Funeral services are at 2 p.m. at the high school.
The Botetourt Sheriff’s Department expects traffic congestion Thursday around James River from about 1 p.m. until at least 3 p.m. then on Rt. 43 and in Eagle Rock for the procession and burial at the cemetery there.