PA Assistant Fire Chief Succumbs to COVID-19

May 7, 2020
Assistant Chief Robert Zerman, 49, with Pioneer Hose Company in Robesonia passed away on April 16 after contracting the coronavirus in early March.

Robert E. Zerman spent much of his life as a public servant, and in that service, he lost his life this month to COVID-19.

He had risen to high positions at Western Berks Fire Department and Womelsdorf Volunteer Fire, and he had been an EMT for Western Berks Ambulance and a volunteer at another.

"He served his community," said Anthony Tucci, chief executive officer of Western Berks Ambulance Association who spoke on behalf of the Zerman family. "He was always there to help anybody in need."

His final role was at Robesonia's Pioneer Hose Co. as assistant fire chief, where his service in early March is being linked back to exposure to the coronavirus.

"We don't know exactly how it transpired," Tucci said. It's still being examined. "At that time, no one was wearing masks or telling anyone that they should wear masks."

Surprising decline

Zerman's two sons, Robert J. and Brandon, both work as first responders. In fact, Robert, the oldest, works with Tucci at Western Berks, and made the crew aware of his father's condition.

"I actually knew he went to the hospital when he first got sick," Tucci said. "We heard he was possibly coming home, then he took a turn for the worse and got put on a ventilator."

He was just 49 years old when he died at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital on April 16. In his obituary, his family thanked the hospital staff for taking the "best care of him during his final days."

He leaves behind his wife of 26 years, Greta, their two sons, daughters-in-law and two grandchildren.

A procession took his body from Good Samaritan through Berks County to the Klee Funeral Home in Shillington. Along the way, hundreds of his comrades stood at attention as the procession passed.

The pain of a comrade

At the end of that procession for Zerman was his friend of 25 years, Tucci, who was proud to see the outpouring from their brothers and sisters in service, but sad too.

"You can see yourself in this," Tucci said. "It saddens me to know that one little misstep, one little thing. We didn't know anything about this bug, but it took out someone at so young of an age."

While the ambulance and fire crews are now fully equipped with masks and other protective equipment, danger is always a part of first responders' lives.

"We're doing everything that we can to protect ourselves every which way possible," Tucci said.

Kenneth Beam, senior vice president for the Firemen's Association of Pennsylvania, did not know Berman but said this: "We send our prayers out to all the people on the front lines that need our prayers, that they'll be watched over and taken care of."

Beam, 76, volunteers with the Palmyra Fire Department, currently as captain of the fire police.

In memory of Bob Zerman

"I was a supervisor of his. I was a paramedic partner of his. I was a friend of his," Tucci said.

A jovial man, he was "Bob" to his friends.

"He was there to always make you crack a smile, lift you up when you needed it," Tucci said.

To help the family with expenses, donations may be offered to Western Berks Ambulance Association, 2506 Belmont Ave, West Lawn, PA 19609.

Also, for all the fire and ambulance companies hit hard by stay-at-home orders that have canceled their fundraisers, donations can be offered to them directly. Beam said that many of them are in a financial struggle that has ended for some with mergers to other fire companies.


©2020 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.)

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