KINLOCH, Mo. -- Uniformed firefighters will stand vigil at the casket of Richard Parks, a color guard will carry flags and pipers and drummers will play at his funeral.
The ceremony is being planned for Parks, 47, who died early Friday morning under hospice care at Rancho Manor Healthcare in Florissant. Parks served with the volunteer Kinloch fire district for 31 years, and a department spokesman said this is considered a line-of-duty death.
Parks had a history of health problems including congestive heart failure and was put on administrative duties for the past year. He had no home, lived at the fire station around-the-clock and suffered cardiac arrest in the firehouse on April 21. He was hospitalized in grave condition and on life support since that day, and pronounced dead at 12:32 a.m. Friday.
Kinloch Fire Protection District Capt. Mike Bowman said Parks was a mentor to many of his colleagues and the mood plummeted after he fell ill last month. "He was the life of our firehouse," Bowman said. "It's not like home anymore."
Within four hours of his death Friday, an alert went out via email to those who subscribe to the Missouri Fire Funeral Announcement List. It said Parks suffered a medical emergency shortly after returning to the fire station following a structure fire with successful rescue of a 16-year-old victim.
That rescue was also mentioned in a news release Kinloch sent out on April 26 about Parks' ill health. It said he collapsed at the station following the teen's rescue. The release was distributed to other fire departments as well, who recirculated it (spelling the city's name wrong in one part) as "Kinlock Rescues Boy, Firefighter Collapses."
In fact, the timing of the rescue and collapse mentioned in those releases was misleading.
Bowman said Parks drove the truck to the scene of the fire that morning on Frost Avenue because a battalion chief was running late. He stayed in the truck instead of fighting the fire but he was only on the scene a few minutes because he started feeling ill. Parks asked for a ride back to the station.
Hours later, he suffered a medical emergency at the firehouse, Bowman said, and was taken to the hospital. He stayed there a few days and was released back to the firehouse, his only home. He arrived back at the firehouse with an oxygen tank, Bowman said. On April 21, he had a cardiac arrest at the station house. Other firefighters who witnessed it helped resuscitate him, Bowman said.
Bowman said a death in the line of duty does come with special benefits, but he said any financial benefits it brings is a matter for the family. Parks had no spouse or children. His brother, Fire Chief Darran Kelley, could not be reached for comment.
According to the website of the Missouri Fire Service Funeral Assistance Team, certain circumstances such as heart attacks and strokes that occur within 24 hours of a strenuous duty-related event may qualify for federal benefits.
Bowman said his focus on Friday was to try to help plan the funeral honors for Parks. A line-of-duty death means a special funeral service, and Bowman said there is no doubt that Parks deserves this sendoff.
"He was at the fire house and on duty when he had sudden cardiac arrest," Bowman said.
Bowman said Parks' duties were purely administrative in the last year after he was hospitalized at DePaul Health Center in 2011. After his return, he was promoted from engineer to captain with the understanding that he would not be fighting fires. He apparently was receiving disability because of his medical issues.
Bowman said Parks' brother tried to convince him to get his own apartment but Bowman stepped in.
"I was adamant that he stay so we could help him" if he needed oxygen or other medical care, Bowman said. "The firehouse is where he lived."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service