Texas Firefighter Succumbs to Injuries

Updated: 04-10-2006 05:23:49 PM

Firehouse.Com News

James McMorries was one of those people who couldn't sit still. If there was something that needed fixing or someone needed help, he stepped right up.

As wildfires drew closer to his Texas community earlier this year, he joined the volunteer fire department.

On Sunday, he died of injuries sustained last month after he was ejected from the 6x6 fire vehicle he was driving after it overturned and careened into a steep ravine.

A member of Howardwick Volunteer Fire Co., McMorries, 62, had been on life support since the March 12 crash. He suffered extensive internal injuries that caused two massive strokes, according to Megan Bowes, his step-daughter.

Two other firefighters, Jeff Cook and Joseph Garcia, were injured. Both have been released from the hospital.

McMorries was trying to back up the 6x6 on sandy ground when the 1,200 gallons of water shifted, causing it to overturn. All three were ejected as the vehicle went down into a 60-foot ravine.

Fellow firefighters and their families have been frequent visitors at the Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo, and offers of support have come from people all over the area, Ms. Bowes said, adding that her family has been overwhelmed by the gestures.

Howardwick Fire Chief Robert Cole said the outpouring of compassion also has touched his tiny department in ways in never imagined. "We've heard from fire departments in New York, California, Seattle. It's been amazing."

Local residents also have stepped up to the plate as well since the tragic crash that left the department with only five firefighters. "I think we're up to 30 or 36."

The Claude Vol. Fire Dept. donated a fire truck, and the Texas Foestry Department has given Howardwick another military-type vehicle specially designed for wildland firefighting, the chief said, adding that a man also has come forward offering to help with repairs, and others have offered to donate tools for the truck.

Firefighters from neighboring departments will be standing by on Wednesday to allow Howardwick volunteers to attend funeral services.

The department, located on the Greenbelt Lake, has been overwhelmed with wildland fires this year. "I think we've handled 20 calls since January. Usualy, we have 26-30 a year."

Chief Cole said McMorries was very involved with the department, and was well-liked.

Ms. Bowes said her step-father helped neighbors as well. "He was the type of person who did everything he could. He could fix anything. He just loved helping people, that's what he loved."

She said he saw an immediate need to help the local volunteer fire department. "They only had six or seven firefighters and their equipment wasn't very good," she said. "He bought radioes for the fire trucks and got companies to donate tires."

Ms. Bowes wasn't sure of the training her step-father had, but said he had been involved in search and rescue a few years ago. "He was the only one who knew how to drive the fire truck because of its tricky shifting. So, that's what he did, he drove... He enjoyed the fire company because he was helping others."

Howardwick is a lakefront community about 50 miles from Amarillo.

Funeral services are set for 10 a.m. Wednesday at Paramount Terrace Christian Church in Amarillo.