A Navy veteran and long-time fire official passed away in the early morning of May 30 while on duty at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB)-based Naval District Washington (NDW) Fire and Emergency Services Central Battalion.
NDW Fire and Emergency Services Battalion Chief John McDonald, 54, began his firefighting career in 1974, while still a teenager, as a volunteer with the Stafford Volunteer Fire Department in Stafford, Virginia.
Before becoming a paid firefighter with NDW in July 1984, McDonald served four years in the U.S. Navy as a boatswain’s mate, most of which was aboard the destroyer USS Caron (DD-970), during which time he earned a sea service deployment award.
He was very proud of his naval service, according to his NDW co-workers. But, it was his part in the saving of at least seven lives while serving as a firefighter that make his co-workers and family proud of him, according to NDW Fire and Emergency Services Acting District Chief Jeff Williams.
“Those were just the lives he helped save and was recognized for by an award here at work, He was also a lifesaver in his volunteer fire department work as well,” Williams said.
Upon learning of the loss, JBAB Commander Navy Capt. Frank Mays said, “Our sincere condolences go out to Chief McDonald’s family, friends and co-workers. He was a valuable asset at JBAB and served as an extremely competent incident commander for many of the emergencies here and on other nearby naval installations. His loss is sad and will certainly impact all of us. We will not soon forget his long and dedicated service and fellowship.”
JBAB’s senior chaplain, Navy Cmdr. Wesley Sloat, is providing comfort and support to firefighters and family. Other members of the JBAB family are also providing support, as needed.
NDW Fire and Emergency Services Acting District Chief Jeff Williams said, “The loss of Chief McDonald is indescribable. His leadership, courage and camaraderie will be sorely missed, not only by this fire department, but by the larger Navy family.”
In Stafford, McDonald attended the fire academy for basic training as a firefighter, then in the years that followed, he took many advanced training courses and became certified in a variety of fire, rescue, leadership and management skills.
McDonald continued his volunteer service until his death. He was a life member of the Stafford Volunteer Fire Department and served in many roles, including as its fire chief. He also served as an operations fire chief, the training division chief and a member of a Safety Review Board, among other roles as a volunteer for the Stafford County Fire and Rescue Department.
At NDW, while rising through the ranks to become a battalion chief, McDonald served in various roles, well beyond that of a competent, well-liked and respected firefighter, including those involving training other firefighters and overseeing the maintenance of the NDW fire, rescue and emergency medical services fleet of vehicles and equipment.
McDonald also earned many highly-advanced certifications, accredited in Virginia and some, nationally, including, hazardous materials technician, fire and rescue instructor and safety officer.
“This is a tremendous loss of a friend, a former union leader and a well-respected chief. This union is eternally grateful for his service and fraternal brotherhood,” said Gregory Russell, president of the International Association of Firefighters National Capital Federal Firefighters Local F-121, which represents NDW firefighters.
A memorial service with full fire department honors was held, following a public viewing yesterday and a memorial service and internment at Quantico National Cemetery today.
Military members, including Mays, Sloat, Naval District Washington Commandant Rear Adm. Markham K. Rich, and Naval Support Activity Washington Commanding Officer Monte L. Ulmer, firefighters, police officers, family and friends from a wide geographic area paid their respects and participated in the rendering of honors to McDonald and his family.