POMPANO BEACH -- A veteran Pompano Beach firefighter died after falling nearly 100 feet from the top of a ladder truck during a training exercise Friday, according to Fire Rescue Chief Harry Small.
William "Bill" Elliott, 50, had been with the fire department since 1989, city spokeswoman Sandra King said.
Elliott had no wife or children, but he had his colleagues; Small considered him a friend for 25 years.
"We've had a death in the family here, essentially," Small said. "He was an extraordinarily competent guy, one of our best, it's just very hard [to deal with]."
It is the first time a Pompano Beach firefighter has died in the line of duty. The training was being conducted behind Fire Station 61, 2121 NW Third Ave., around 4:20 p.m. with four other firefighters. They witnessed his fall, including one who was on the ladder right behind Elliott.
"He just basically said he saw him fall," King quoted the firefighter as saying.
This type of training was nothing new to Elliott.
"That particular truck is new, but it's not a new type of truck for us, we're very used to that," Small said. "He's been up and down that ladder 100 times."
An investigation is under way.
"They wear a harness when they go up and get to the top, they hook in, but when you're moving up and down you obviously can't be hooked in, so there's a certain amount of free movement there and somewhere in that process something happened and at this time we just don't know what it was," Small said. "We'll have to investigate it in detail and hope that we can find an answer."
Training can be more dangerous than firefighting.
"In order to do this type of work, which is very dangerous, you have to train a lot on your aerial units because that's risky stuff to begin with," Small explained. "Training is a part of our lives and there's a number of firefighter fatalities annually in the United States from training exercises. It's sad but true."
This is the last guy you'd think this would happen to, Mayor Lamar Fisher said.
"Everybody that spoke about him said he was so passionate about what he did," Fisher said. "He was so precise in what he did, he was always cautious."
Elliott was taken to North Broward Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, King said.
Most of the fire department's 230 employees passed through the emergency room to pay their respects and mourn together during the night, Small said.
"We've had an outpouring of support from all the other departments in Broward County and even other counties," he said. "We're just getting prepared for the funeral we're going to have to deal with."
Elliott's body was taken away in a Pompano Beach Fire Rescue ambulance with an escort of more than a dozen police and fire rescue vehicles at the request of the chief and mayor.
His body was taken to the Broward Medical Examiner's Office as part of the investigative procedure, Small said.
"We, at this time, have no idea what happened," he said. "He did fall approximately 100 feet from the top of the ladder during a training exercise and we'll be investigating that."
A public funeral is expected.
"His family is Catholic so we'll honor their wishes, but we want to find a facility large enough to accommodate all those who will pay their respects," Fisher said. "It's a severe tragedy and the void will be unfilled for a long time."
email@example.com or 954-356-4303
Copyright 2012 - Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.