Jeff Buck’s last call began with sirens and probably a familiar jolt of adrenaline.
He raced toward the unknown, sure of one thing: Someone needed his help.
At 18, he was willing to give it for free.
On that morning, on a snowy Clearfield street, he also gave his future.
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A funeral procession Friday in Hyde, Clearfield County, laid Buck to rest, 10 days after a collapsed porch fell on the Lawrence Township Fire Company firefighter while he battled a house fire.
Critically injured, he held on for almost a week. The night after his death, thousands of porch lights across the region illuminated the darkness in tribute to him.
At his memorial service, local emergency first responders joined their brethren from as far away as Pittsburgh to honor one of their own. Engines rumbling under the traditional crossed ladders delivered a final requiem for a firefighter.
They remembered a remarkable Clearfield Area High School senior, a good student and concert band trumpet player dedicated to coming to his neighbors’ aid.
He couldn’t legally buy a beer, but he took on the responsibility of saving lives from mangled cars and burning rooms. Three years ago, he even received an award for his commitment.
Teenagers routinely are portrayed as self-absorbed creatures. Of course, many promote the stereotype. But it’s too easy to forget that many look beyond themselves, toward making a difference.
Buck got it.
When flames shoot through windows, when four tires point skyward in a ditch and seconds count, someone has to suit up and interrupt his or her life.
And there’s always the chance it won’t resume.
Any fallen volunteer firefighter is a gut-wrenching tragedy, but Buck’s death is particularly heartbreaking. He embodied hope for companies struggling to recruit young members into their ranks — a walking recruiting poster. He was the poster child for the next generation of men and women we call in our greatest times of need.
Now we’ll never know what he could have become over a lifetime. His short but shining record suggests a leader. It’s no stretch to imagine him rising to be a company officer and, eventually, a respected chief ensuring the safety and effectiveness of his firefighters.
Any ideas within him vanished on a terrible morning, but he may still further the noble pursuit that spoke to him.
Maybe another young person will be inspired by his example to complete the training, don the gear and face harrowing situations, in exchange for nothing more than the satisfaction of a job well done.
Maybe there will be two, or three, or several.
In any case, it would be a fitting legacy.
As a whole, we need more selflessness and fewer selfies today. We need more civic-minded people who want to serve their communities, to help libraries and nonprofits grow, to devote their spare time to being school board directors, borough council members and township supervisors.
Even more, we need strong local fire companies. Lives may hinge upon municipal decisions, but life and death usually do not. Anyone, at any time, could owe everything to brave volunteers like Buck, some of whom could end up losing everything in return.
So the next time you hear wailing sirens, say a prayer for Buck’s grieving family and friends, for the firefighters speeding down a road to whatever lies ahead and for their loved ones waiting for their safe return.
Say a prayer for all of them.