A good firefighter-friend of mine once said to me‚ Dying in the line of duty doesn’t make you a hero. The first day you put on your gear‚ that’s when you become a hero. If that statement is true‚ my brother became a hero at the age of 18‚ and he lived his dream until his death at age 22.
Jeffrey Vaden Chavis knew at a young age that he would grow up to be a firefighter. He had many other interests through the years‚ but none as strong as firefighting. He played little league football‚ took gymnastics‚ and learned to play the guitar and trombone in elementary school. In middle school he played football. High school was much the same – he lettered in football his senior year. In addition‚ Jeff joined the Future Farmers of America. He competed in local‚ state‚ and national competitions in the FFA and won several awards. In 1997‚ his senior year at Lexington High School‚ he was elected President of the local chapter of the FFA. He could have gone again to the national competition‚ but he gave up his spot for a chance to live his dream.
When school was out each afternoon‚ you could always find Jeff at the fire department. He wasn’t old enough to volunteer yet‚ but he loved to help the guys wash the trucks and roll the hoses‚ or just hang out waiting for the alarm to sound. The chief of our local volunteer station had already turned in Jeff’s volunteer paperwork so that he could start to volunteer as soon as he turned eighteen. And‚ on March 28‚ 1997‚ his eighteenth birthday‚ he left in the midst of a birthday party‚ given in his honor‚ to run his first fire call. The rest is history. Jeff took many classes to learn more about the fire service and firefighting. He even received a plaque that year for the most training hours completed by any firefighter in that department.
But Jeff didn’t stop there. He continued taking classes and furthering his knowledge of firefighting. Among other things‚ he attended classes to become an EMT. His training paid off‚ and in a short time he was given a full-time firefighting job. He wasn’t satisfied. He signed up for classes offered by our county fire service and the state fire academy. After several months at his dayshift firefighting job‚ Jeff transferred to another station in the county‚ working on a rotation schedule. While serving at this station‚ he signed up for – and completed – a certified instructor’s class so he could share his knowledge with other firefighters. In the four years he was active in the fire service‚ he received awards for training hours completed and excellence in training; and twice he was voted firefighter of the year.
On June 16‚ 2001‚ Jeff was working his scheduled shift at Round Hill Fire Department in Lexington‚ South Carolina when he responded to a call in a Lake Murray subdivision. He entered the house through the garage and was entrapped when the garage door and the ceiling fell. Jeff was flown to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta‚ Georgia‚ with bums on 53% of his body. He passed away on July 12‚ 2001. Because of Jeff’s bravery and dedication to the fire service‚ a housing facility has been named for him at the Southeastern Firefighters Burn Foundation on the Burn Center grounds in Georgia. The Jeffrey Vaden Chavis House will house family members of burn patients free of charge. Donations given in his memory – and to honor the sacrifice he gave – made this building possible. Firefighter 307 – Jeffrey Vaden Chavis – gone but never forgotten. Rest well‚ my brother. You will always be in our hearts.