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Ceremony honors Virginia first responders who inspired ‘generations of firefighters’

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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Six first responders, who served for decades across the Commonwealth, were honored for their record and dedication to duty in a ceremony at the Richmond International Raceway Saturday.

The 19th annual Virginia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Memorial Service honors firefighters who died in accordance with the Virginia Line of Duty Death Act. Those honored included:

  • Assistant Fire Marshal David A. Staub of Loudoun County Fire and Rescue
  • Chief Thomas Oesterheld of Spotsylvania County Volunteer Fire Department
  • Master Firefighter/Paramedic Gregory Lee Brundage of City of Newport News Fire Department
  • Firefighter James Russell Dempsey of Ashland Volunteer Fire Departmen
  • District Chief Paul J. Pokorski Jr. of Virginia Beach Fire Department
  • Firefighter/EMT Michael Todd Harris of Roanoke Fire-EMS

Governor Terry McAuliffe was among the hundreds in and out of uniform to fill a hall at the Henrico County raceway.

“These men served as mentors and leaders inspiring many generations of firefighters,” McAuliffe said, “They were among the greatest and bravest of Virginia’s fire services.”

Oesterheld was the youngest fire chief ever in the state when he assumed the title in 1964. The 75 year old lost his battle to stage four lung cancer on July 19th, 2014 just months after retiring.

“I don`t know if Tommy would`ve wanted all of this pomp and circumstance, but he certainly deserves it," Oesterheld’s widow, Lucretia, said.

Dempsey was just a few months from having served 40 years in the Ashland Volunteer Fire Department. His daughter Lisa Henley, who is also a first responder, was on a fire call when the truck passed her father on the side of Route 1 in Doswell.

“He was having difficulty breathing and chest pains,” Henley said. “We put him in the back of the rescue squad and I told him that I loved him and I’d see him in the hospital.”

Dempsey died of congestive heart failure on the way to the hospital in November 2012. The Dempsey family gave Governor McAuliffe his badge as a gift.

“I want to thank the Dempsey family,” McAuliffe remarked. “They gave me Rusty’s badge. I get a lot of things as governor, but this is the greatest honor I’ve ever had.”

The six men honored served a collective 189 years in their communities.