Photo credit: Ralston Volunteer Fire Department
Fire service personnel across the country are reeling from the death of a Nebraska fire chief who reached beyond the town's limits and state line to help others.
Ralston Fire Chief Kyle Ienn was found hanging from a bridge in his hometown Tuesday morning, and authorities are investigating it as a suicide.
Members of the Ralston Volunteer Fire Department are struggling to cope with the loss of their chief, who not only made changes in their firehouse, but worked to make differences elsewhere.
News of Ienn's death also left a void in the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
NFFF Executive Director Ron Siarnicki said Ienn was dedicated volunteer who always went out of his way to assist the families and colleagues of fallen firefighters.
In addition to founding and being the commander of the Nebraska (Local Assistance State Team (LAST) team, Ienn also was a NFFF advocate for the Everyone Goes Home Program.
"We offer any assistance we can," Ienn said while participating in a panel at the annual CFSI event last spring. "We help plan the funeral, and most importantly tell the family what a firefighter funeral is all about and what they can expect."
Ienn spoke of the importance of not only stepping up but speaking up to make sure everyone on the incident is operating safely.
"It's going to be tough," Assistant Chief Joe Eischeid -- who will take over for Ienn -- told The Omaha World-Herald. "We train so that we know what to expect in a situation, but a lot of guys in there just don't know what to say about this."
Under his leadership, the volunteer department's ranks swelled to an all-time high with 56 members at the end of 2011.
"Kyle has taken this department to a completely different level," department spokesman and former chief Tom Negley told the newspaper. "I was thrilled when Kyle said he'd take the job as chief, because I knew he'd do an excellent job."
Ienn is survived by his wife, Christine, who is an administrative assistant for the department, and their three children.
Siarnicki added: "Chief Ienn was an ardent supporter of the Foundation's mission to honor the fallen, to comfort and assist their survivors, and to work diligently to prevent and reduce line-of-duty deaths and injuries..."
Ienn was involved in a number of activities to promote firefighter safety, and closing the firehouse bar in his own station when he took over didn't make him popular, he recalled in an interview last spring.
Siarnicki saluted him for his dedication: "Chief Ienn was steadfast to these efforts in his words and actions, and his performance as a fire chief was unparalleled. He will be sorely missed."
Just as Ienn did many times, Siarnicki said NFFF officials have reached out to his colleagues to offer support during this difficult time. "It's been tough. It's sad for everyone..."