QUANTICO, Va. – Hundreds of firefighters from multiple
states were joined by military members, police and the
public honoring a fallen, lifesaving firefighter, Navy
veteran and avid motorcyclist during a memorial service on
June 5-6, 2014.
Navy, Air Force and Army service
members joined firefighters from the District of Columbia,
Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina in honoring Fire
Department Battalion Chief John “Johnny Mac” McDonald.
Stafford Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Dave Luckett,
left, is among the hundreds of firefighters from multiple states,
who were joined by military members, police and the public honoring
Fire Department Battalion Chief John “Johnny Mac” McDonald.
McDonald, 54, a Navy veteran and a life member, volunteer
firefighter and former fire chief of the Stafford (Virginia)
Volunteer Fire Department, a volunteer battalion chief with the
Stafford County (Virginia) Fire and Rescue Department and a paid
firefighter and battalion chief with the Naval District Washington
(NDW) Fire and Emergency Services. McDonald passed while on duty at
Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB), where he served at the NDW
Central Battalion, on May 30, 2014. (U.S. Navy photo by Joseph P.
Naval District Washington (NDW) Commandant Rear Adm.
Markham K. Rich, Naval Support Activity Washington
Commanding Officer Capt. Monte L. Ulmer, Joint Base
Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB) Individual Mobilization Augmentee
Air Force Col. Monique Minnick, Navy Cmdr. Wesley Sloat,
senior chaplain, and JBAB Operations Officer Navy Lt. Cmdr.
Mike Rickett were among the military members present.
Members of the public lined streets, some saluting or
holding their hand over their heart, as the long funeral
procession, consisting of many dozens of fire trucks, made
its way from the church service in Stafford, Virginia, to
Quantico National Cemetery, where military honors and
McDonald's internment concluded the two-day memorial
A large motorcycle escort, consisting of
Department of Defense police, as well as police from
Stafford County and Prince William County, Virginia, and
members of the Fire and Iron Motorcycle Club led the
McDonald served as vice president of the
Northern Virginia chapter of the motorcycle club, which
consists of firefighters, emergency medical technicians and
paramedics who are also motorcyclists. His motorcycle, club
vest and helmet were on display at his viewing.
McDonald, 54, passed away while on duty at the JBAB-based
NDW Fire and Emergency Services Central Battalion in the
early morning on May 30.
Before becoming a paid
firefighter with NDW in July 1984, McDonald began his
firefighting career in 1974, while still a teenager, as a
volunteer with the Stafford Volunteer Fire Department (SVFD)
in Stafford, Virginia.
McDonald is credited with the
saving of at least seven lives during his career and
mentored many rookie firefighters.
four years in the U.S. Navy as a boatswain's mate, most of
which was aboard the destroyer USS Caron (DD-970), during
which time he earned a sea service deployment award.
He is survived by a wife and two children.
Friend, Mentor, Hero, Servant of
During the service,
members of the two fire departments, friends and family,
NDW Fire Chief Charles P.
Miedzinski, told the audience about the lives of people that
McDonald and the crew of JBAB-based Tower Ladder 21 saved
from a burning apartment building in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a
community located just outside of the nation's capital, as
just one example of McDonald's lifesaving efforts.
SVFD Fire Chief Dave Luckett, related how McDonald served as
a mentor to many rookie firefighters and helped them in many
ways, professionally and personally.
“He took me
under his wing when I joined the fire department at age 15.
He taught me and even helped me get a firefighting job at
the Quantico Marine Corps Base,” Luckett said.
Miedzinski added, “He was not just a battalion chief, he was
a friend to all firefighters – at work and at home. He
always took good care of his firefighters.”
recalled, “He made us feel good as soon as he walked into a
room. He took the time to teach us the right way to do
things and pushed us to always be the best.”
McDonald was the fire chief at SVFD, which is also known as
Stafford County Fire and Rescue Company 2, the department's
motto, “Committed 2 Excellence,” was coined, according to
firefighter and SVFD president, Curt Avis.
lasting tribute to McDonald, his name and chief's title were
painted on the passenger doors of fire engines at JBAB and
the adjacent Naval Research Laboratory, for all firefighters
entering the trucks to see, each and every time they enter
to perform their duties.
With his volunteerism,
lifesaving and his endless quest to help others in need,
McDonald was a hero to many people, but most of all to his
“During snowstorms, we'd go out in his
four-wheeled-drive truck, looking for people stuck in the
snow, to help them in a good will, genuine, heartfelt
gesture,” McDonald's daughter, Ashley, said.
giving and helping nature will live on, Ashley reported. The
donation of his bones and tissue will continue his legacy of
helping others in need, she reported.
others was his passion; leading and helping his family was
NDW Acting Deputy Fire Chief Mike Murray
read a letter from one of McDonald's close friends. The
friend called McDonald, “Hard-working and hard-playing.” The
friend's letter emphasized McDonald's love for his family.
“His accomplishments were his family,” the friend wrote.
“There was nothing dad wouldn't do for our family,”
McDonald's daughter, Katie, remembered.
He was also a
God-loving man, dedicating his life along with his family to
Jesus Christ, Kate said.
A slide show, featuring many
photos, spanning much of McDonald's life and set to county
and western music, including the Garth Brooks' song,
“Friends in low places,” brought both smiles to faces and
tears to eyes as fellow firefighters, friends and family
viewed and recalled many of the scenes.
and Luckett presented McDonald's family with the folded and
cased flags of both fire departments. The International
Association of Firefighters (IAFF) awarded McDonald its Line
of Duty Death medal. McDonald is the 2,294th IAFF member to
fall in the line of duty.
Closing the church service,
a firefighter played out the longtime firefighting tradition
of striking a fire bell with the traditional code and bell
pattern of 5-5-5; three separate batches of five strikes of
the bell, signifying the last alarm for McDonald.
Following the church service, McDonald's remains, contained
in an urn, were driven to the cemetery on NDW Tower Ladder
21, by the same firefighter that drove McDonald on a fire
truck, after McDonald was promoted to serve as the fire
captain of that fire company, before being promoted to
Upon arrival at
the cemetery, Luckett and Miedzinski carried McDonald's
remains and a U.S. flag from the fire truck and turned them
over to a lead petty officer from the JBAB-based U.S. Navy
Ceremonial Guard, following an exchange of salutes between
the fire chiefs and the Sailors.
signified the transition between the full honors fire
department funeral to the execution of a precision military
funeral and internment at a national cemetery for veterans.
A Navy Band bugler played taps and Navy Ceremonial
Guardsmen rendered honors, including a gun salute, before
presenting a U.S. flag, folded by the Sailors, to the
Miedzinski presented the family with
McDonald's battalion chief's fire helmet, well-scarred by
the many fires that he helped fight during his time as a
During the ceremonies, hundreds of
firefighters stood at attention, saluted and looked like a
sea of blue, just as they had during the church service,
The words of a Pastor Mark Miller of the
Ebenezer Methodist Church, uttered during the church
service, remained fresh in the minds of those at the
cemetery. “Johnny is not dead, he's been promoted to
paradise. This is a time to celebrate that he lived, not
that he died. This is not the end, but rather, a new
“Johnny Mac lived well, loved well and
laughed well. He is not dead, for the best is yet to come,”
the pastor stated.
Likewise, the words contained in
the friend's letter read by Murray, included, “You can shed
tears because he is gone or you can smile because he lived.”
Similarly, a letter read on behalf of McDonald's oldest
brother, Rod, encouraged the crowd to “count your rainbows,
not your thunderstorms.”
A Stafford County Fire and
Rescue dispatcher transmitted a last call voice alarm over
the fire department radio in honor of McDonald and concluded
the dispatch with the statement, “He will be missed.”
D.C. Fire Department's Pipe Band played "Amazing Grace"
as the memorial service came to an end.
good times, his smiles; and remember him often,” daughter
She continued, “I hope you will
take the lessons of my dad's life; what he taught you, and
do as he did, helping others in any way that you can. Let
his legacy live forever,”
“Do for others as he did
for you. Teach others as he taught you,” daughter Katie
“He was a valuable asset at JBAB. His loss
will certainly impact all of us. We will not soon forget his
long and dedicated service and fellowship,” JBAB Commander
Navy Capt. Frank Mays said earlier.
reflect those of hundreds of other people who knew,
personally interacted or worked with, were taught by or
benefited from McDonald's volunteerism, professionalism,
integrity, love, friendship or generosity.
By U.S. Navy Joseph P. Ciron
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