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Tim McClanahan: Devoted friend, father had passion for job

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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Federal Aviation Administration investigating incident at Georgetown airport

Fire fighting and rescue missions were Tim McClanahan's life - a life cut short after a tragic training accident.

McClanahan, a Lewes firefighter with about 20 years of experience, also served as a member of the Delaware Air Rescue Team. He was participating in a monthly DART training exercise at the Georgetown airport July 11, when he fell about 60 feet from an airborne helicopter, an official said. McClanahan landed on a grassy area, and was transported by EMS to Beebe Healthcare, where he was pronounced dead. Lewes Fire Department Chief Gordon Davis said he and McClanahan helped create the air rescue team six years ago. Together, he said, they were part of 18 firefighters and medics who train monthly for emergencies that require airlift rescue.

"I worked hand-in-hand with Tim for many years, and he was a personal friend," Davis said.

Davis estimates that about once a month the team responds to rescues over water or in wooded areas unreachable by land vehicles. Members rappel off a hovering Delaware State Police helicopter and then secure a victim for transport before they are hoisted into the helicopter.

Davis said McClanahan was an experienced hoist operator, energetic with a passion for helping others. "There's not another person I'd rather have next to me battling a fire or on a rescue," he said.

About four years ago, Davis said, McClanahan was part of a team that responded to an emergency off the Lewes coast. A crew member of a cargo ship was suffering from severe trauma after falling, and McClanahan rappelled onto the ship to secure and transport the crew member for medical treatment.

Safety is paramount to training and rescue missions, Davis said.

"Everyone is tethered," he said, adding McClanahan was tethered at the time of a safety inspection before the July 11 training session. The Federal Aviation Administration is now investigating.

A visibly shaken group of firefighters, friends and emergency responders gathered July 12 at Station 2 in Lewes to remember McClanahan.

"Tim was doing what he loved, he was training with the Delaware Air Rescue Team when there was a tragic accident... We lost a son, a father and a brother," said Lewes Fire Department spokesman Glenn Marshall, his voice breaking.

Assistant Fire Chief and third-generation firefighter Craig Reynolds grew up in the fire station and, he said, McClanahan was his mentor.

"He was an awesome guy. A teacher willing to pass his knowledge on to anyone who wanted to learn," he said.

McClanahan taught part time at the Delaware Fire School, where he worked with Craig Stephens, a training administrator and Lewes firefighter. Stephens said McClanahan was part of a tight-knit group that spends their days off surf fishing at the beach. With an outgoing personality and happy-go-lucky disposition, McClanahan will be missed. "He was always trying to have fun "he said.

Stephens said Lewes Fire Department's marine rescue boats may be remembered as one of McClanahan's legacies. He spearheaded efforts to raise money for Marine 1, and he led a committee that purchased it. Stephens and McClanahan were part of a group of Lewes firefighters who flew to San Francisco for a final inspection. Taking it out on the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean is a trip he said he'll never forget.

A mechanic who once operated a small engine repair shop on Rehoboth Avenue, McClanahan maintained Marine 1, keeping it fine-tuned. McClanahan served as a marine captain for the Lewes Fire Department, where he also had served as assistant fire chief and engineer.

Prior to joining Lewes Fire Department, McClanahan volunteered as a Milton firefighter, and he remained an honorary member who would attend the awards banquet every year.

DJ Hughes, a Milton firefighter and friend of McClanahan, grew up in the Milton Fire Department and said he remembers Tim being full of life and always having a smile on his face.

"He loved the fire department and everything that goes with it," Hughes said. "He served his community with pride. While the incident is certainly tragic, he died doing what he loved."

Matt Dotterer, a close friend and fellow firefighter, said McClanahan brought him into the Sussex County Tech Rescue team. His expertise in the field was impeccable, he said.

"He taught me about a brotherhood of first responders I never knew," Dotterer said.

The two would often train together, but also spent time together outside work with their families - McClanahan was the father of two children. They often shared stories - McClanahan about his helicopter missions and Dotterer about his missions out west to fight wildfires.

"He never wanted to glorify what he did, but tell me how much he loved the jobs," he said. "He will be missed by my whole family."



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Original Publication Date: July 15, 2016

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