Community honors fallen firefighter

"He had a heart for people": community remembers fallen firefighter
Published: May. 4, 2022 at 7:13 PM EDT
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BRAXTON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - “It’s been hard, it was totally unexpected,” reflected John Forbush’s grandmother, Ruth Ann Samples, about his untimely death. “You just keep going.”

As the Gassaway community gave Forbush a hero’s welcome Wednesday, Samples spent time reflecting on some of her last memories with her grandson at an early celebration for his birthday.

“He stood at the door, and we hugged,” she recalled.

“I told him how much love there was in my house because my boys were there, and we went out to eat and we had a super time, and so I got those memories to hang onto.”

First responders from across West Virginia came together Wednesday to remember and honor Forbush.

Gassaway Fire Department volunteer firefighter John Forbush was killed Sunday while attempting to rescue a mother and daughter from the Elk River in the Sutton area. Officials have since ruled the incident a murder-suicide.

Mother, daughter, firefighter dead after car goes into Elk River in murder-suicide

Forbush’s remains were returned home to his friends and family on Wednesday, after a report was completed by the medical examiner’s office in Charleston. Firefighters, police and EMS lined up to escort the hearse up Interstate 79, and other first responders lined the road with American flags to pay their respects.

“He may not have been part of our fire department, but there’s a really tight brotherhood from the state of West Virginia,” Wilderness Fire Department assistant chief Noah Allen said. “With firefighters, if someone gets hurt, someone gets killed in the line of duty, we’re here to pay our respects and help the family.”

A four-year veteran of the Gassaway Fire Department, Forbush is being described as mature, loving and kind by his family.

“One of the first labels we gave him was when he was four we said ‘he was four going on 40′,” Samples recalled, laughing.

“He was a little adult at that time and he would talk to strangers.”

“They have received notes and messages from across the country,” West Virginia Fire Marshal chief deputy Robbie Bailey said. “The community, in general, they hurt as well. They know they depend on these first responders, whether they are volunteer or career, to take care of them in their time of need or in an emergency situation.”

It was a somber scene as Bailey and other first responders prepared to travel from Charleston to Gassaway. Bailey said they wanted to show respect and support for the family members who lost a loved one in this tragic incident while paying tribute to one of their own.

“I think that shows a lot of respect not only for John Forbush, but for the first responder agencies,” Bailey said. “The brotherhood and sisterhood of first responders is strong, it’s a very tight-knit community, everyone across the state tends to know each other. It’s just a good family support. It’s a brotherhood, sisterhood network to care for each other and show support.”

Samples said the Gassaway Volunteer Fire Department was a fitting choice for her grandson’s giving personality.

“I was very proud of him, he didn’t take on any challenge he didn’t make work for him,” she said.

“People have sent me all kinds of messages of things he did I had no idea he had done.”

A number of fire departments and police officers drove the 50 miles up to Gassaway to show that every firefighter, volunteer and career, are both valued in the community.

“People kind of take a volunteer firefighter for granted sometimes,” Jefferson Fire Department firefighter Chad Smarr said. “They don’t realize that we do the same job as the paid firemen or volunteer. We are all out here to do the same job, and that is the help our citizens of our communities that we serve.”

“Today is a sad day,” Smarr said. “During tragic times, it doesn’t matter where you are in the state or across the border, we are all a brotherhood. We are all going to support each other no matter what, and that’s what we’re here for.”

Samples said her grandson’s giving spirit was with him until the end.

“He had a heart for people and if he was in a situation someone needed help, he wanted to help them.”

Forbush’s wake is from 3 to 8 p.m. Monday at Gassaway Baptist Church. His funeral is planned for 11 a.m. Tuesday.

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