SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – The death of Cavour Fire Chief Josh Kogel adds another first responder to the list of firefighters in South Dakota who passed away this year.
Three active firefighters, two in the line of duty, have passed away in 2023 so far. Representatives from the South Dakota Firefighter Association (SDFA) say their deaths take a toll on the community, their families and the firefighting profession.
“Across the nation, everytime I read about one, I get pretty emotional,” former SDFA President and current secretary Dennis Gorton said. “The fire service of South Dakota thinks about the family and hurts for the family. When we get that message, it’s like someone hit you in the stomach, you just go “Oh, no, not again.’”
Kogel passed away Monday after going into cardiac arrest while responding to a structure fire in Huron. Authorities say Kogel fought the fire in the 100 degree heat for four and a half hours before dying in the hospital.
On September 1st, Ty Dimond of the Wood Volunteer Fire Department passed away in a car accident. According to the fire department’s Facebook, Dimond was an active member, but was not killed in the line of duty.
And back in April 2023, Fred Fedeler with the Chester Fire Department passed away from a heart attack while on scene of an agriculture facility fire. Fedeler’s cause of death is listed as stress and overexertion. He was 67 years old.
Kludt said stress and overexertion are common causes for firefighter deaths. Firefighters tend to be older, Kludt said, and smaller communities are struggling to find volunteers that are younger. Kludt said he encourages all firefighters in South Dakota to get a physical every year and maintain their health.
“Even if it does cost you a few dollars to get it done, it could be well worth the time and money and effort to make sure you’re doing okay before you go out and try and help other people,” Kludt said.
Gorton said the emotional toll on the community and families of the firefighters can be tremendous, but a firefighter’s death can also affect other firefighters at the station.
“They become kind of like family because you meet with them and go on fires with them and through training together,” he said.”
Kludt agrees, saying, “We all watch out for each other after this type of thing happens. The emotional aspects of this really get kind of tough on individuals, especially in a small town like this.”
Kludt said around 100 firefighters die in the line of duty every year across the nation. The three deaths in 2023 so far, is more than what Kludt is comfortable seeing. He said for a long time, South Dakota only had one firefighter death every few years, but lately that number has increased to at least one a year.
“Unfortunately, this is more than what we like,” Kludt said. “After going several years without having one, then all of a sudden, we’ve had about one every year. We’re ready to go back under that low streak again if at all possible.”