A procession of fire trucks, ambulances and police cars slowly escorted the body of Mark A. Haudenschild II, a Washington Township volunteer firefighter, through downtown Fort Wayne on Monday afternoon.
More emergency vehicles blocked intersections as firefighters and police officers stood at attention along the route, watching the procession make its way from St. Joseph Hospital, east down Main Street and Columbia Avenue, stopping at D.O. McComb & Sons Funeral Home.
Haudenschild's body was unloaded from an ambulance and taken on a flag-draped stretcher into the funeral home, rolling between somber lines of first responders.
It was the first full day of mourning for Haudenschild, a 26-year-old husband and father who died Sunday night after losing control of a tanker truck and crashing on his way to a brush fire.
About 8:40 p.m., he was headed south on Hillegas Road when he tried to make a right turn to go west on Butler Road when the truck rolled several times and hit three utility poles. The truck came to rest on its side, just off Hillegas, about 100 yards south of the intersection in northwest Fort Wayne.
Speaking Monday at the Washington Township firehouse, Chief Brian Gillett said Haudenschild, the only firefighter in the truck, was ejected and pinned underneath the wreckage. He died at the scene from blunt-force injuries received in the accident, the Allen County Coroner's Office said.
Gillett said Haudenschild's death in the line of duty was the first in the department's 67-year history. The chief remembered him as an energetic, dedicated firefighter.
"Mark loved being down here and being a volunteer here," Gillett said, fighting back emotions. "He liked working on the trucks. He was one of those guys if he didn't know how to fix something, he'd figure it out. He loved this place, and he's going to be missed."
Haudenschild, of Fort Wayne, worked as an installer for Comcast. He leaves behind his wife, Janet, his 1-year-old daughter, Kyra, and 3-year-old son, Mark Haudenschild III.
Gillett said his volunteer department with about 25 members has been trying to balance its own grief while also supporting Haudenschild's family.
"It's just emotional right now," Assistant Chief Bruce McBride said. "We lost one of our brothers."
Gillett described an outpouring of support from fire departments around the region. He said that since the crash, neighboring departments have been responding to his department's emergency calls, a system that will be reassessed today.
On Sunday night, Haudenschild was the last firefighter to leave the firehouse to respond to the brush fire in the 4300 block of Butler Road. He was hauling water to help fight the blaze that involved about an acre of woods. Firefighters initially believed structures may have been threatened, but that was not the case, the chief said.
Gillett said Haudenschild had been with the department for five years and, as assistant chief engineer, was responsible for maintaining equipment and making sure others knew how to use it. He said Haudenschild was experienced at driving the tanker rig that crashed.
The coroner's office said Haudenschild was not wearing a seat belt. Gillett said the truck had seat belts and that its standard protocol for firefighters to use them.
What caused the tanker truck to roll over is not clear.
Sgt. Mark Brooks, a Fort Wayne police spokesman, said Monday that investigators do not yet know how fast the truck was going.
He said physical evidence is generally used to make such a determination. It could be weeks before the crash investigation is completed, Brooks said.
Authorities have cited the momentum and weight of the truck as possible factors in the crash. Gillett said the truck's 3,500-gallon tank had dividers to limit the sloshing of water and keep the load balanced.
Haudenschild's death is the 35th traffic fatality in the county this year, the coroner's office said. Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.
Karen Recht, the mother of a Fort Wayne firefighter, stood along Main Street on Monday, watching the procession for Haudenschild line up near St. Joseph Hospital. She said the dangers of her son's job are constantly on her mind.
"I always tell him to be safe out there," she said.
The Washington Township Fire Department will conduct a news conference at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to announce plans for funeral services.