Texas Firefighter Dies in Tanker Crash

Updated: 12-12-2005 04:01:58 PM

Firehouse.Com News

Chad Wessels reached out with a smile, a hug and always, a helping hand.
That's how the 32-year-old volunteer firefighter is being remembered in his small central Texas community of Briggs.

Wessels was killed early Sunday as he drove a 1,200 gallon tanker to a house fire. The vehicle veered off the road, struck several trees and exploded into flames.

He was a career firefighter at Fort Hood Fire Department and you could find him working part-time at Marble Falls Fire Co. or volunteering at Briggs. His wife, Melinda, is a 911 dispatcher.

His death has left his friends numb.

"Anywhere that boy went, he was loved," said Briggs Asst. Chief Gerda McQueen, struggling to control his emotions. "Everyone knew Chad..."

McQueen said Wessels was the first person to pitch in, and not just at the fire station. "If there was an activity at the community center, especially involving kids, he was there...If something was broken and needed fixing, he did it."

Wessels was driving the water tender that he kept at his residence. "We didn't have enough room for all of our equipment. Chad offered to keep the truck..."

The assistant chief said it's been difficult to be at the station the past few days. "He did all our fire reports. Now, I wonder how we're going to get these things done."

McQueen said he was proud to call Wessels one of his best friends. "I miss him. It's a loss to hundreds if not thousands..."

When his co-workers at Fort Hood Fire Department learned of his death, they started notifying colleagues who were off-duty.

"We were thinking about the people we should call. I said we should just get the central Texas directory and start dialing...He was that well known," said Capt. Ernesto Cantu.

The captain said "Chaddie" put people at ease the minute they met. "My own daughter doesn't talk much to the firefighters here. But, the second she met Chaddie, they hit it off. They were talking like they'd known each other forever..."

Wessels built the water tender that crashed early Sunday. "He had a love for the fire service I've never seen before," Cantu said. "He lived it. Everything was about the fire service."

When he wasn't working at Fort Hood, you could find him working part-time at Marble Falls Fire Co. or volunteering at Briggs. His wife, Melinda, is a 911 dispatcher.

"If you gave him a task, he did it and more. He'd find other jobs and just do them. He was a beautiful man." Cantu said.

The fiery crash has left many unanswered questions. McQueen said, adding "Chad was one of our safest drivers. He was always preaching to others not drive any faster than necessary...It doesn't make sense."

Other departments have stepped, and are answering calls for the 17-member company as members deal with their first line-of-duty death.

Visitation will be held from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14 at Briggs Community Center. Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at Grace Fellowship Church in Lampasas.