SUDLERSVILLE, Md. -- The call came in a little after 7 p.m.: a small appliance fire in a home on Main Street in the Eastern Shore town of Sudlersville.
Charles "Buck" Clough Jr., chief of the volunteer fire company, jumped into his pickup truck and headed toward town in a driving rain.
Moments later, dispatchers called Clough to say that the fire had been extinguished. But the chief didn't answer. And when a caller reported that a pickup had slid off the road and slammed into a grove of trees on Sudlersville Cemetery Road, the staff at the volunteer fire company feared the worst, officials said.
The 41-year-old chief, who had been a member of the fire department for 26 years, died instantly in the crash Wednesday night, said Kevin Aftung, a spokesman for the Queen Anne's County emergency management office.
All through the small town -- with its one traffic light -- phones rang as residents spread the news that the chief, a lifelong resident and member of a large extended family, had died.
"Everyone just thought the world of him," said Judy Leonard, who owns the Parkside Deli with her husband. "He was a great father and really involved in the community. We're a small town, and everybody knows everybody. We're just all pretty tore up about it."
The chief lived with his wife, Sandy, and sons, Shane and Chase, on his family's farm. His parents and his sister and her husband live a few doors away. Clough worked in the traffic engineering department in the State Highway Administration for more than 20 years, but his heart belonged to the Fire Department, residents said.
The fire station is the heart of the small town, residents say, and almost everyone has a relative who volunteers there. On Thursday, a crowd of paramedics and firefighters stood around smoking cigarettes or sitting on ambulance bumpers talking quietly. A steady stream of women brought food and potted plants.
Two ambulances bearing the station's insignia, "Sudlersville 6" were draped with garlands of black cloth. The sign in front read: "You are in our thoughts and prayers. We miss you brother."
Members of the volunteer fire company said they were too emotional to speak with reporters Thursday. Late in the morning, several firetrucks and ambulances drove in a caravan to the state medical examiner's office in Baltimore to claim the chief's body.
Funeral plans have not been completed.
At the convenience store at Phillip's Garage, at the tiny library and homes perched on the edge of wide green fields, residents of Sudlersville spoke of the chief in hushed tones throughout the day.
Rose Hutson, the postal worker who delivers mail to the 400 homes in the rural areas just outside town, said many residents waited by their mailboxes for her, wanting to hear news of Clough.
"There have been a lot of tears in here today," said Leonard at the Parkside Deli. "It's going to take everybody a long time to get back on their feet."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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