Lionville Fire Company honors three who died in the line of duty

LIONVILLE — Members of the Lionville Fire Company will gather Thursday to once again commemorate the life, death, and legacy of David J. Good, a firefighter who was killed in a horrific crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike a quarter-century ago.

But this year, the company will join with others in the first responder community by also recognizing two other fire company members who died while serving the public and who, like Good, left behind lessons that have impacted those who they worked with and those who came after their deaths.

From left: John Windle, Dave Good, Charles Martin
From left: John Windle, Dave Good, Charles Martin

At the Chester County Public Safety Training Center in South Coatesville, the officers and members of the 112-year-old company will dedicate Hero Plaques in memory of the three members who made the ultimate sacrifice — Firefighter Charles H. Martin Jr., killed in the line of duty on Sept. 1, 1965; Firefighter Jonathan S. Windle, Jr., killed in the line of duty on Nov.  1, 1966; and Good, who was killed in the line of duty on March 9, 1998.

Good has been honored before on the anniversary of his death. Martin and Windle, however, had not been remembered in that way until now.

They were all members of the fire company that began in 1911 and which provides fire and safety protection to residents and businesses in Uwchlan and portions of Upper Uwchlan and West Pikeland. Martin and Windle were firefighters when Lionville’s coverage area consisted mostly of farms, modest homes, and a burgeoning suburban development area. It now includes densely populated areas of apartments, million-dollar homes, and multi-million dollar business and commercial complexes.

In an interview Wednesday, Lionville Deputy Chief Bill Minahan discussed the decision to remind the community of their sacrifices.

“To me, it all comes back to ‘Lest we forget,’” said Minahan, who grew up in the Marchwood area of Uwchlan and watched as a teenager while members of the company build a new addition to the firehouse off Route 100, adding more service bays and amenities in the mid-1960s when Martin and Windle were active members.

“Their sons were a couple of years older than me in high school, but when they died I wondered what had happened to Mr. Martin and Mr. Windle. All of a sudden, they lost their dads. I felt for them, because they were a big part of the community,” he said.

Martin was a Uwchlan township supervisor, a well‐known Lionville farmer, and a civic leader when he died. He was electrocuted after climbing over a barbed wire fence that had been touched by a downed 44,000‐volt power line, going to fight a brush fire, a common occurrence in those days.  He left behind his wife and three children.

Windle was 39 and a Navy veteran of World War II. At the time of his death, he was in the active reserves with the naval Reserve Helicopter Squadron at Willow Grove. He was killed after falling from a ladder while working with other volunteers on the construction of the new fire house Minahan had watched going up. He left behind his wife and two children.

“It is the same thing with other heroes,” said Minahan, who joined the company in 1975 and served as chief in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “If you forget about them, if you don’t take a lesson from the past, you are doomed to repeat things.” He said fire training now stresses looking for hazards like downed wires at field fires — the cause of Martin’s death — and construction requirements include increasing the height of ladders on buildings — a fault that led to Windle’s death.

For the current members of the company, March 9 will always be a day to remember Good, however. He had been part of a number of firefighters and rescuers who had gone to the turnpike to help motorists injured in a multi-vehicle crash there, not far from the Downingtown interchange, While they were loading the injured into ambulances, a tractor-trailer lost control and slammed into the assembled.

Good, 36, was killed, and nine others were injured.

Robert “Bobby” Kagel, who worked as director of the Chester County Department of Emergency Services and is now the county’s top administrator, was a senior at Downingtown High School when he started volunteering for the Uwchaln Ambulance Co.

“I got a phone call from Fred Wurster about the accident,” Kagel remembered on Tuesday. “He picked me up at my house in (Goshen Fire Company’s) ambulance and we went to the scene to transport Robert “Hoofy” Doan, who was the last firefighter to go to the hospital.

“It takes a special kind of person to be a first responder,” Kagel said. “You’re putting your life on the line to save someone else’s every day. You intellectually understand the risk but it never stops you from doing the job that needs to be done.

Each of the firefighters being memorialized on Thursday left their homes, their families, that morning with no one knowing what would happen later that day,” he said. “They each leave behind their own legacy, their own impact on the way things are done.”

“The fact is that then, and now, there’s a lot of time, effort, and energy to being a volunteer firefighter,” he said. “It’s not just about responding to emergencies. Dave Good’s death, however, has had a truly lasting impression.”

According to Kagel and Minahan, the circumstances surrounding Good’s death – and the legislation across the country that was inspired by those events — have changed the tactics, techniques, and practices for how roadway incidents are handled in every discipline – police, fire, EMS, fire police, tow truck operators, construction workers.

“I remember when traffic vests were orange and carried on the ambulance because the PA Department of Health required you to have them on an ambulance. Now, if you’re not wearing a high visibility safety vest, even in broad daylight, you’re yelled at and told to put it on.

“But it’s not just safety vests,” he said. “It’s how you position apparatus to protect the responders; it’s how decisions are made at a roadway incident scene; it’s the collaboration, coordination, and training which takes place before and after an incident occurs.

“It’s all of those things – and more – which have directly resulted from Dave’s death,” said Kagel. “His sacrifice has saved countless lives.”

Added Lionville Chief Michael Esterlis: “We always look back on our history and what we have learned from our previous members. They have molded and trained our current members, and these members train and grow the future members.  We pride ourselves on training, having thousands of hours of training completed every year.”

The event at the training center will include the playing of bagpipes, and comments from new county Director of Emergency Services Bill Messerschmidt;  Gerry Lindenlauf, deputy director for Public Safety Training; Chaplain Jerry Schwartz, of the West Chester Fire Department; and Minahan. Commissioners Chairwoman Marian Moskowitz plans to attend.

“While not all line of duty deaths have such a lasting, far-reaching impact, their names and memories will forever be cemented in our thoughts through the existence of this garden,” said Kagel.

To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.