Iowa town mourns loss of longtime firefighter who died of COVID-19
Capt. Brad Tendall, 43, had been a volunteer with the Nevada Fire Department for 24 years
NEVADA, Iowa — A Seagrave Engine 54 led a procession of 21 emergency vehicles through Nevada on Sunday in honor of Capt. Brad Tendall, a longtime member of the city's fire department.
Final repairs were put on the fire engine that morning, but it was Tendall who "was really instrumental in getting (the truck) up and going," retired firefighter Fred Malvin said.
"He'd been spending so much time working on that to get it on the road, and that very fact made it possible for it to be on the road (Sunday)," Malvin said. "This was his blood."
A volunteer with the Nevada Fire Department for the past 24 years, Tendall died of COVID-19 Sunday, former and current Nevada firefighters told the Ames Tribune. He was 43 years old.
'He'd do anything for anybody'
Born in Ames on Sept. 7, 1978, Tendall was raised in Nevada along with his brother, Jamie, who is also a firefighter. He graduated from Nevada High School in 1997 and married his wife, Jessica, in 2001. He was most recently employed as a truck driver with the Story County Engineer and Secondary Roads Department.
As the fire department's "official and unofficial mechanic," Tendall was constantly fixing vehicles at the station, often with his two sons in tow — and without complaint.
"He'd do anything for anybody," firefighter Chris Melton said.
And Tendall was a "really great dad" to his boys, firefighter Jeff Stensland added.
"He took the time to sit down and explain to these boys how to do this or how to do that, or why we're doing this or that ... they were always with him," Stensland said.
When Tendall wasn't tinkering with equipment in the station's garage, he was keeping a close eye on the town he loved as he drove around for his job. His "brothers" at the fire station said he was often among the first to call in emergencies that he came across on his route. He knew Nevada well, and gave directions that referenced "where so-and-so's parents live" or "the old somebody's place."
Every year, he took the lead on the fire department's hog roast, a role he took great pride in. After most local farmers got out of the hog business, retired firefighter Dean Tope said, Tendall would drive as far as Marshalltown to buy the best hog for the station's annual celebration.
That was just the kind of "good-hearted guy" Tendall was, Tope said — generous with his time, with his labor, with lending his tools.
"It was just, like, he'd loan the shirt off his back if you needed it," Tope said.
Memorial procession was 'the last thing we wanted to do'
Tendall's friends from the fire department had started planning his "final ride" a week before Sunday, when his prognosis with COVID-19 was looking poor. It wasn't immediately clear if he'd been vaccinated.
"Then he got better, so it was kind of like, 'Oh, sweet, we don't have to do this' — because it's the last thing we wanted to do," Melton said. "And then we get the phone call Sunday."
That morning, a group got together to work on the Seagrave engine. Former and current Nevada firefighters made calls to other Story County fire departments, as well as to Tendall's family. In just a few hours, an escort of emergency vehicles was traveling down Lincoln Highway to the Rasmusson-Bacon Funeral Home, where Tendall's affairs are being handled.
"If Brad knew what we did Sunday for him, he'd have been pissed — he's not a fanfare guy. 'I do my job. I don't expect any recognition for it,' you know?" Tope said. "He would've appreciated it, but he would've been (saying) the whole way, 'It was unnecessary.' "
Crowds of people lined the street Sunday to pay their respects, which Tendall's friends say shows how many community members knew and respected him.
"There's people that live in a town like this — work wherever ... eat supper, go to bed. And then there's people that are part of the town," Stensland said. "And Brad was part of the town."
At the end of the procession Sunday night, members of Tendall's unit and other firefighters "stood watch" at the funeral home.
"BT was never alone on the job or off," a Facebook post from the Nevada Fire Department said. "He is not alone tonight."
How to donate to the Brad Tendall Memorial Fund
The Nevada Fire Department is encouraging people to donate money to support Brad Tendall's family and establish an educational scholarship for his sons. Donations can be made at the State Bank & Trust in Nevada, at 1025 6th St., to the " Brad Tendall Memorial" account.