West Virginia Chaplain Dies After Stroke

Dr. Raleigh "Gene" England was more than just the chaplain at the Beaver Volunteer Fire Company in West Virginia. He was a firefighter first, which members say made his association a natural fit.

England, 59, was helping to organize a critical incident stress team at the fire station on Oct. 19 when he complained of not feeling well. He suffered a massive stroke at his favorite Chinese restaurant during a lunch break.

He died Oct. 28 at Raleigh General Hospital. On Tuesday, firefighters from across the region turned out for a final salute.

"Gene was retired from the Portsmouth, Va. Fire Department. Many companies get a chaplain who's good. But since he was a firefighter, he had the experience and knew what was going on," said Deputy Chief Mike Lilly.

England also was chaplain for the Beckley Fire Department.

"It's a big loss for all of us," Lilly said, adding that the funeral included a police medevac helicopter fly-over.

John Jones, a paramedic, was in the meeting with England when he fell ill. "Gene, my wife and I were getting the debriefing team together. We'll continue the effort. He would want that."

Jones said when he left on a medical call, he expected to return to find the meeting resumed. But, that didn't happen.

In the few days that England held on at the hospital, he was surrounded by fellow firefighters. "He wasn't able to speak. But, he'd grip our hands..."

Fire crews from neighboring companies stood by in Beaver station on Tuesday. Although they were supposed to be out of service until 6 p.m., the volunteers headed out on a wreck shortly after returning from the funeral service.

Jones and Lilly said England would want them to get back to running calls.