FREDERICK, MD – Family, friends and firefighters gathered Sunday to remember a young man who died nine years ago while training with his recruit class.
In addition to unveiling a memorial just feet from where Andrew Waybright, 23, collapsed as he finished a 3.7 mile run, the family received an official apology from Frederick County.
“The tragedy that occurred that day is a tragedy of the worst kind because it was a preventable loss that took the life of a young man destined to be one of our best and brightest,” said Chief Tom Owens, director of county fire and rescue services.
Although the temperature was 84, and the heat index was 96, the recruits were not allowed water or to take a rest, according to an inquiry report.
Waybright suffered heat stroke, and went into cardiac arrest shortly after telling a fellow recruit: “I want to finish with my class.”
When he reached the hospital, his temperature was more than 107 degrees.
Maryland Occupation, Safety and Health investigators concluded: "The instructors failed to recognize the obvious signs of distress shown by the employees, which led to the collapse and death of Mr. Waybright."
Water was withheld from the recruits, who were not given a break during the exercise that included a half-mile walk, 3.7-mile run, 15 to 20 minutes of calisthenics and two sets of uphill wind sprints, each covering about 300 feet.
The National Weather Service had issued a "code red" warning, implying all outdoor activity should be limited. Nearby Fort Detrick had cancelled its formation that morning due to the heat.
Owens said the county learned a “terribly hard lesson” that day, and admitted that no matter what changes have been made, the “debt we owe can never truly be repaid.”
The director vowed that Andy’s story will be “passed along to every generation of Frederick firefighter.”
He added that safety procedures put in place after Waybright’s death will never be set aside.
The memorial – designed by Waybright’s mother – includes a small fountain as well as benches and a monument. It sits at the entrance to the county’s public safety training center. It was dedicated nine years to the day of the tragedy.
In addition to being a place for family and friends to come and reflect, Owens added: “It will also be much more than that. The presence of this memorial will also be a permanent reminder to the Frederick County Fire and Rescue System of the tragic lessons that were learned that day.”
He also told the crowd of nearly 200: “Andy’s memorial will be a constant reminder of how high the cost can be if we fail to always do the right thing.”
Owens looked at the Waybright family, and apologized. Some wiped tears as he spoke.
Wendy Bowersox, a paramedic in Carroll County, fondly remembered Waybright.
Although he wasn’t too keen at first about being partnered with a woman, she said the two hit it off right away. “He was my driver…”
She recalled memories of their experiences including conversations about their dreams. “Andy’s dream was to be a firefighter and a farmer…”
Waybright was in his third day of firefighter training when he died.