Hundreds gather to honor SC firefighter killed by semi-truck
Paul Quattlebaum's casket was carried atop a white and blue fire engine with the number 24, the first fire truck he drove
By Isabella Cueto
LEXINGTON, S.C. — American flags hung over a funeral procession of fire engines entering Batesburg-Leesville High School to pay tribute to fallen firefighter Paul Edwin Quattlebaum, Jr.
Hundreds of men and women in uniform from fire departments across South Carolina filled the courtyard in front of the school’s fine arts center and saluted Quattlebaum’s casket. The sound of bagpipes filled the space.
And yet, the “low-key” 46-year-old would have been amused by the grandeur of his public funeral, said Paul Keisler, Quattlebaum’s cousin.
“He would be laughing at this,” Keisler, 52, said. “... He would be more at home in a deer stand out in the woods or out fishing.”
The service was held in Quattlebaum’s native Batesburg-Leesville to honor his life and all he did before he was killed Oct. 4 while on duty helping others.
Around 3:30 p.m. Friday, he was responding to a medical call when Quattlebaum and his partner came across a vehicle collision on Fairview Road, a statement from Lexington County said. Quattlebaum, a firefighter for more than 22 years, got out to check on the passengers and was struck by a semi-truck, according to county officials. He later died at the hospital from his injuries, according to the county.
Members of Lexington County Fire Service, as well as first responders and law enforcement from Cayce, Camden, Irmo, Lexington and more, showed up en mass to pay their respects to Quattlebaum, who served as a fire engineer at Samaria Fire Department Station 27.
Quattlebaum’s casket was carried, draped in an American flag, atop a white and blue fire engine with the number 24, a fire truck he was the first driver of, according to Keisler. And while he was recognized as a lifelong “servant” — first a Marine and then a firefighter, as well as a father, son, brother and friend — Quattlebaum, 46, was a “good ol’ country boy” at heart, Keisler said.
Quattlebaum graduated from Batesburg-Leesville High School in 1990 and became a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served as a field radio operator from 1992 to 1994. He was honorably discharged after suffering an injury, according to Lexington County officials.
He later started as a volunteer firefighter in Lexington County in 1997 before being hired full-time in 2000. In November 2002, Quattlebaum was promoted to the position of fire engineer. From October 2017 to March 2018, he also served as a ride-up captain, a position that serves as captain when others are off duty.
In addition to his career as a firefighter, he was the owner of Paul’s Pool Service and Repair, and a member of Leesville United Methodist Church, according to his obituary.
He was “simple,” loving and always smiling, his family members said during the service, held in the fine arts center. He loved being in nature and he especially loved the mountains, according to his cousin, Damian Quattlebaum, and aunt, Mary Ann Shull. He hoped to one day move up to a mountain somewhere, they said.
“His mountains are beautiful and cool now,” Damian Quattlebaum said.
Lexington County Fire Chief Mark Davis described the last time he spoke with Paul Quattlebaum Jr. early on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago. Quattlebaum had a work-related issue he wished to discuss with Davis, and once it was resolved, they continued talking, Davis said. They talked about the future of the department, the difficulties of raising sons — Quattlebaum’s son, Elijah, is a teenager — and life in general, Davis said.
“Paul is a hero because of the way he lived his life,” Davis said. “A man dedicated to his country, his county.”
And his legacy took effect almost immediately after his death, when his partner on the scene said he would show up for work the following Monday because “that’s what Paul would want,” Davis recounted.
The Quattlebaum family asked loved ones and friends to donate in his honor to the Burn Foundation of America’s Jeffrey Vaden Chavis House, a home where families of burn victims can stay for free while caring for loved ones. The house is named for a former Lexington firefighter.
Quattlebaum leaves behind his father and stepmother, Paul and Gwen Quattlebaum, his brother, Thomas Chad Quattlebaum, his son, Elijah Paul Quattlebaum, his ex-wife Tanya Price, his stepsister Mariah Matthews and the rest of his family.
©2019 The State (Columbia, S.C.)