NC fire chief dies from COVID-19 on his wedding anniversary

Savannah Volunteer Fire Department Chief Darrell Woodard, 66, was a firefighter for more than four decades and was planning to celebrate his 13th wedding anniversary

Duty Death: Darrell Woodard - [Sylva, North Carolina]

End of Service: 12/29/2020

Simone Jasper
The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

SYLVA, N.C. — The wife of a North Carolina fire chief went shopping for her 13th wedding anniversary, not knowing it would be her husband's last day alive.

"His daughter and I went out and got 'I love you' balloons and 'happy anniversary' balloons," said Leigh Woodard, WLOS reported.

Darrell Woodard died Tuesday, days after contracting COVID-19, his family says. He was 66.

Woodard was a firefighter for more than four decades and most recently led the Savannah Volunteer Fire Department in the Western North Carolina town of Sylva, according to his obituary.

"He couldn't go anywhere without someone coming up to him and thanking him for some small thing he had done for them recently," Woodard's son-in-law, Joel Rogers, said Friday in a message to McClatchy News. "Putting out fires, holding someone's hand after a loss, helping to pull someone from a car crash, taking the fire trucks to local schools for water days, using his down time to help someone in their field or pull someone out of a ditch or getting firewood for someone — you name it, he did it."

Ronnie Buchanan, who served alongside the late fire chief in Jackson County, said Woodard was passionate about his job, The Sylva Herald reported.

"He was like a brother, or dad, to all of us," Buchanan said. "He was a worker, a special man, kind, would do anything for anybody who asked him."

Woodard had been in the hospital, and recent social media posts from Rogers gave updates on his battle with the coronavirus.

Jackson County is in the red zone on North Carolina's coronavirus alert map, meaning it's experiencing "critical community spread" of COVID-19. It got onto the list after reporting a positivity rate higher than 10% as well as more than 200 cases per 100,000 residents during a two-week period, data show.

Statewide, almost two-thirds of counties are in the red zone as coronavirus-related hospitalizations hit record levels and the positive COVID-19 test rate continues to be above the target of 5%, The News & Observer reported. People across the state are urged to avoid crowds, wear masks in public and get tested if they think they are sick.

Another fire department in Western North Carolina paid tribute to Woodard on Facebook.

"Tonight we mourn the loss of Chief Woodard of Savannah Fire dept," Franklin Fire & Rescue posted Tuesday. "He was a friend and role model to many and always opened his doors to our members and assisted our department when in need."


(c)2021 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)


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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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