If nothing else, volunteer firefighter earned respect for lifetime of service
April 11, 2007 - 9:00 pm
Mary Lou Marsh takes solace in the fact her husband died doing the work he loved.
Bob Marsh was the captain and crew of a one-man volunteer firefighting unit posted at Palm Gardens. He suffered a massive heart attack during a call and died behind the wheel of his fire wagon in October 2001. At 78, he was an Army veteran of the Battle of the Bulge and a proud member of the all-volunteer CalNevAri Clark County Rural Fire Station 84 on U.S. 95 near Nevada’s southern tip.
In the couple’s home, Mary Lou heard the fatal call develop on the radio receiver with which Bob monitored the often deadly string of auto accidents that occur on the asphalt ribbons that run east to Laughlin and farther south into San Bernardino County, Calif. Although her husband stayed in good condition, and was a dedicated volunteer, he’d undergone heart surgery 25 years earlier and was getting up in years. He died just inside the California state line on that October day.
What Mary Lou can’t comprehend to this day is the insensitivity she experienced from the public officials after his death. Because Bob was more than 55 years old at the time of his heart attack, he wasn’t covered by the volunteers’ insurance policy because of a clause that critics call a screaming example of age discrimination.
She didn’t even receive the $5,000 burial insurance policy she was promised. Only her husband’s fellow volunteer firefighters stepped up to assist her.
With the bill draft submission deadline drawing near at the 2007 Legislature, elected officials are said to be crafting a change in the current state law. The inequity has already attracted the attention of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
It’s too late to help Mary Lou, but she says she’ll gladly give testimony if she’s feeling up to it.
"I called everyone I could think of from our representatives to our county commissioner," the 83-year-old woman recalls. "I realize that he was old, and that he’d had a heart problem. But it was the principal of the thing.
"The first thing I was told was I would get the $5,000 from the insurance policy. I thought that was wonderful. I didn’t need it, but at least it was something. I thought I would pay his funeral expenses and donate the rest to the volunteer firemen all through the county. He would have wanted that."
After a hearing officer denied Marsh’s claim, she not only received no monetary assistance, but the bureaucrats failed to help retrieve her husband’s body from California authorities. The volunteers took their ambulance unit and brought the captain back home, where his memory as a dedicated firefighter of more than 40 years was honored in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.
That’s right. Bob Marsh, a retired safety engineer for the Transamerica Insurance Corp., fought fires and aided auto accident victims for more than four decades without compensation from Edinburgh, Ind., to CalNevAri. And upon his death, his widow was denied a simple burial policy.
"He was always the first one on the scene," Mary Lou says with pride. This year would have marked their 65th wedding anniversary. "He had been a volunteer fireman every place we lived."
Marsh was so dedicated he always parked the firetruck on the side of his house.
Firefighters were rediscovered as American heroes following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and Marsh’s name was included in several memorials.
One plaque is in Carson City, which is the height of irony considering the lack of respect hundreds of Nevada’s older volunteer firefighters are experiencing. With an estimated 25 percent of the state’s volunteers over age 55, the current law is particularly asinine.
What do you suppose would happen if Nevada’s rural firefighting and EMT/paramedic forces were suddenly cut by one quarter?
You wouldn’t want to be in an auto accident beyond the city lights.
"Unless they have experienced it, I don’t think anybody can realize how much work the volunteer firefighters do for the community," Mary Lou says. "You’ll find in this day and age very few people willing to do something for nothing."
The least we can do is treat the veteran volunteers with the respect they deserve.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0295.JOHN L. SMITHMORE COLUMNSDiscuss this column in the eForums!