Firefighter catches ‘firenado’ on camera
A firefighter caught a fire tornado on camera during a training session.
USA TODAY, Storyful
Ryan David Hetrick in his short 20 years left a legacy of goodness and grace.
The Salisbury man died at the scene of a motor vehicle crash involving a truck and the motorcycle he was driving on June 5, according to Trooper C. Stoliker in a media release.
Hetrick died of blunt force trauma, according to Deputy Coroner Cullen Swank. Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller was at the scene. An autopsy was performed.
Because state police are conducting an active and ongoing investigation, they could not release any more information about what occurred last Saturday at Springs, Oakdale and Niverton roads in Elk Lick Township, said officials at the Somerset barracks.
Beyond being a 2018 graduate of Salisbury-Elk Lick High School, working in maintenance for Somerset County and being a member of Glade Mt. Hunting Club and St. John’s Lutheran Church, there is still a lot to learn about a young man named Ryan who was all about helping others.
Who was Ryan David Hetrick?
Ryan was happy with life.
He liked to share his positive outlook.
He often told his mother, Angela Hetrick, when she was stressed about something that “Everything is OK, mom.”
In every experience in his life, he made sure everybody else was OK, from his little brother, parents, girlfriend and friends to other firefighters and “motorheads.”
The day before he died, his mother heard him — as he often did — run up the stairway making the sounds of a running motor. She remembers she laughingly asked him “if he was always going to make those sounds.”
His good-natured, goofy grin was his answer.
Ryan was her “no time to be in the dumps” person.
“The biggest heart”
According to those who knew him, he had “the biggest heart.” Ryan always made sure those around him were OK, and he especially seemed to enjoy sharing his heart with his brother, Tanner.
The four years difference in their age gave Ryan the opportunity to be both big brother and defender to Tanner, and he seemed to relish both roles.
He was always checking on his brother at the playground and his brother’s friends, according to his mom.
“The love he had for his brother was unreal,” said his dad, David Hetrick.
Tanner shared that feeling. One of his favorite sayings of his brother’s: “Let ‘er rip, ‘tater chip,” he said Thursday.
His big brother who loved cars was often heard saying, “grip it and rip it.” Ryan was proud of being “a motorhead” and was part of a group of car club friends. He enjoyed riding motorcycles and being a firefighter.
Ryan stepped up at a recent fire scene, flashed a warm smile that deepened his dimples, and asked if a reporter needed help. His overalls were dusty from being part of the crew that put out the fire, his hair was damp from the exertion, but more noticeable than anything, was his calm and warm demeanor. A memorable man.
Salisbury Fire Chief Justin Short enjoyed watching Ryan grow from a young boy into a young man after he joined the fire department about two years ago.
“Everybody has a place at the firehall and I often wonder to myself what that role will be since it takes everybody to make it work,” he said.
For Ryan, his role was working behind the scenes and taking pride in his fire department, Short said. His “second family” the McKenzie’s, drew him into the fire hall because of their long-time involvement, but it was the possibility of helping others that kept him there. His girlfriend was Madison McKenzie. Her father, Heath McKenzie, also a firefighter, and Ryan’s father went to school together and their families have been longtime friends.
“We just recently purchased a zero turn lawn mower and Ryan told me in advanced that he wanted to be the first to use it and he was,” Short said. In fact, he did such a good job of cutting the firehall’s grass that it now looks like a golf course, he said. Short is a McKenzie relative.
Learning about maple
Outside family and friends and the firehall, Ryan got a kick out of learning about the making of maple syrup.
He enjoyed working and spending time at Short’s Sugar Camp.
It was a moment he shared with his dad, who is a Lions Club member and helps make the pancakes at fundraisers, and Ryan helped provide the maple syrup, Short said. Short’s family has been involved with the maple industry since the 1970s.
Ryan could be found taking time to have discussions with his elders who resided in an facility where he was part of the cleaning crew.
“He had a soft spot for older people,” Angela said.
He didn’t stop there. Then there were the kids.
“Kids gravitated to him. He would get down to their level” and enjoyed kidding, playing and talking with them, his mom said.
“A social butterfly”
Ryan could talk to anyone about anything, which became even more apparent since his passing.
His family was overwhelmed by all the people they learned had became friends with Ryan — many they did not know — until the calls and emails began rolling in since his passing.
“He was our social butterfly,” his mom said.
At the scene
“It’s a deep hurt, loss, knowing that you just lost one of your men,” Short said, who was the first member of the Salisbury fire department to arrived at the accident scene.
He did not know about Ryan’s involvement until he saw him, he said.
“I got down on my knees and I said a quick prayer, but I still have a white hat to wear and a job to do,” Short said. “Sometimes those feelings can overtake you, but what helps is that you are in critical situations and you just react to that.”
Short and other members of the fire department have participated in what is known as critical incident stress debriefing since the death of one of their own.
“On behalf of the fire department we want to say a special thank you to Tom Bender and his team (who provided the counseling),” Short said.
The hardest thing
For Ryan’s family, the hardest part with his passing is knowing he was such a good and happy person, and that there are many people who will not be able to experience what he offered his family, friends and family everyday of his life.
Probably he would respond, “Everything’s OK.”
(Follow Judy D.J. Ellich @dajudye on Twitter.)
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