A Keansburg, New Jersey firefighter was struck and killed Wednesday by a suspected drunk driver while directing traffic at the scene of a hazardous materials incident, officials said.
Joseph F. Walsh, age 76, served the Keansburg Fire Department for 54 years, said Capt. Albert Scott.
The department had responded to a minor hazardous materials incident at Keansburg High School, where Walsh was acting as a fire police officer.
"He was standing at the entrance to the high school and he was getting the vehicles out of the parking lot," Scott said. "While he was directing the traffic on Port Monmouth Road, a suspected drunk driver hit him and continued to flee the scene."
Walsh's fellow firefighters responded and had Walsh flown to Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, where he was treated but succumbed to his injuries at about 2:05 a.m.
"It was a first for any of us, having to take care of one of our own," Scott said. This is the first recorded line of duty death in the department's 93-year history.
Keansburg Deputy Police Chief James K. Pigott told the Asbury Park Press that the driver, Kristina Gogger, 26, of South Amboy, was charged with driving while intoxicated, reckless driving and failure to use due caution for safety of a pedestrian in a roadway.
Walsh is survived by two daughters, a son, and nine grandchildren.
He is widely known and remembered for operating Walsh's Sweet Shop in Keansburg for more than 50 years. "Everyone in town used to go there," Scott said. "He used to have Welsh Farms ice cream, and candy, and any school supplies you needed."
Walsh closed the store after his wife Eleanor passed away in 1996, and worked for the borough water department until his retirement two years ago. He was also a World War II Army veteran.
"He always had a story to tell, and was always laughing," Scott recalled. "He was the type of guy that if you were telling a story, at the end at the punch line, he might be jumping into your lap." He said firefighters used to call him "Blue," after an old character from the movie "Old School."
"Anything anybody needed, he was right there for them," Scott said. "If anything needed to be done around the firehouse that he was able to do, he'd take care of it on his own, without telling anybody."
Funeral plans were being scheduled Thursday. A viewing is tentatively scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the John F. Pfleger Funeral Home in Middletown, NJ. A funeral mass is being planned for Monday at St. Anne's Church in Keansburg.
The Keansburg Fire Department has 75 members and operates out of two firehouses to serve a population of about 12,000 residents and a summer population of up to 20 to 30,000 people. The town has a beach front and boardwalk and is located on the Raritan Bay across from New York City.