Ensley fire chief, 33, dies of cancer
Angela Fail and Polyana da Costa
A local fire department is in mourning after the loss of one of its own.

Ensley Volunteer Fire Department Chief Lewis Ward, 33, died of cancer Friday at Baptist Hospital.

"There is a deep sense of loss," said John Waas, senior firefighter at the department. "Not just here, but around the county."

Ward, an 18-year member of the Ensley department, wanted to be a firefighter since he was a child.

When he was about 5 years old, Ward, wearing a red helmet with a light, regularly rode his bicycle behind fire trucks to get a glimpse of the action, one colleague recalled.

Ward began his volunteer career when he was in high school. He joined the Ensley department at 14 as a junior firefighter and spent 18 years serving there.

"Through and through, he was a true fireman," said Capt. Bryan Rickles of the department.

Capt. Rob Duerstock from Innerarity Point Fire Department spent the last moments with Ward at the hospital.

"He held on till the last minute," he said. "As a fireman, that's one thing you do -- you don't quit."

Friends of Ward described him as driven and a go-getter.

"He was a very energetic person," Duerstock said. "His enthusiasm could light the world on fire."

Rickles said Ward was a dedicated leader at the 42-member department, which serves one of the busiest fire districts in Escambia County.

"He created the reputation of us being the best," Rickles said. "We'll carry on the tradition, but it will be hard without him."

Brandon Beecher, deputy chief of the Ensley department, began his friendship with Ward at Woodham High School in 1985.

"I've never seen a volunteer so dedicated like him," Beecher said. "It's a big loss for us and the citizens of Escambia County."

As a father, Ward was just as dedicated, said Capt. Mike Aaron of the Ensley Fire Department. Ward had five children: three girls, ages 3, 10 and 11; and two boys, ages 5 and 7.

"He loved his family, and he loved the fire department," Duerstock said. "It takes love, dedication and sacrifice to do what he did."

Assistant Fire Chief Brandon Schlotfeldt of the Warrington Volunteer Fire Department said Ward's spirit will be honored by those he served.

"This man gave everything he had to the citizens of Escambia County and the Ensley community," he said.

My sympathy to the department and family, Rest in peace.