A memorial service is set for Thursday in North Carolina to honor a volunteer firefighter who died of injuries sustained in a collision last month while responding to a call.
Joseph Bilka, a member of Antioch-Fishing Creek Vol. Fire Department in Oxford, N.C., died last week at Duke Medical Center.
Bilka, who joined the fire department when he retired to the Oxford area two years ago, was en route to his station for a smoke investigation call when his Plymouth Bonneville crashed into the side of a tractor-trailer that was backing into another road, said Assistant Chief Benbury Ellington.
The car struck the trailer just above the last axle. Fellow firefighters had to call in a heavy wrecker to lift the rig off the front of his vehicle. "He was conscious the whole time which made the extrication even more difficult. It was tough enough for us to roll up and see it was one of our own..."
Bilka was flown to Duke Medical Center, a trauma unit, where he underwent several surgeries for injuries such as a fractured femur, jaw, shoulder and cracked skull. He made it through the operations despite the odds. However, he developed pneumonia, Ellington said.
This is the first line of duty death for the all-volunteer department that has 26 members.
A retired police officer from the Boston area, Bilka was described as a friendly man. "He was super nice. He would give you the shirt off his back..."
Ellington said he was about to clear all units from the call for the smoke investigation when the dispatcher told him about the crash. Upon arrival, all immediately knew it was Bilka. "I just hope I never have one of those again."
The memorial service with full firefighter honors will be held at the Oxford City Public Works Building.