By Kathy Chaffin
The mood at Rowan Regional Medical Center was somber Friday as family and friends of two fallen firefighters gathered to console each other.
Even those who hadn’t heard about the five-alarm fire at Salisbury Millwork could sense something was terribly wrong. Television news vans were parked outside the emergency department, and shaken firefighters, police officers and city officials were going in and out.
Many of them avoided the front entrance and used a side door to the left of the security office. That was the same door Emergency Medical Service workers used to take 40-year-old Victor Isler into the department a couple of hours into the horrific fire.
EMS workers were administering CPR on Isler when they arrived at the medical center, but were unable to revive the Salisbury firefighter.
Three other firefighters ó one from the Salisbury department and two from Locke ó were transported to the medical center by ambulance.
Another firefighter was missing at the scene, but the body of 19-year-old Justin Monroe of Spencer would not arrive until around 11.
Capt. Rick Barkley of the Salisbury Fire Department arrived at the medical center shortly after Isler. He was transferred to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, where he was being treated for first- and second-degree burns and was expected to be released within 24 hours.
Also transported to the hospital by ambulance were Capt. James Hall and Firefighter Bradley McKnight of the Locke department. Hall was treated for burns on his hand and wrist and released, according to Locke Fire Chief Rusty Alexander, who was also treated and released around noon for a back injury sustained fighting the fire.
McKnight was treated for burns to his shoulder, arm, ears and back and released, Alexander said.
Isler lived in Harrisburg, and his family wasn’t expected to arrive at Rowan Regional until late Friday afternoon.
Monroe’s family began gathering shortly after his body was taken to the medical center. His mother, Lisa, was at work in Rowan Regional’s accounting department when she received news about her son.
Family members and friends arrived at the emergency department, all of them visibly shaken and some crying, and hospital staff escorted them to the chapel. Medical Center Chaplain James Cook, who met with the group, said the chapel was full.
“They’re just absorbing all this,” he said at one point. “They’re in shock … You never expect this kind of thing to happen.”
Between friends, pastors and medical center staff, Cook said the Monroe family was getting the support they needed.
Clergy from around the county called Rowan Regional throughout the day to see if they could offer support to families of the victims.
The Monroe family stayed at the medical center for almost three hours before leaving. Cook said Lisa Monroe asked him to tell Isler’s family members that they would be in her thoughts and prayers.
Salisbury officials drove to Harrisburg to break the news of Isler’s death to his family. Isler is survived by his wife and two children, a 13-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son.
People in the two emergency department waiting rooms for their own reasons were also shaken by the news of the fallen firefighters. One woman who found out about the fatalities tried frantically to call and check on her uncle, who serves with two fire departments.
A mother waiting to hear from her son being treated for chest pains expressed her concern for the families of the fallen firefighters.
Another woman, whose son was a friend of Monroe, cried openly at mention of the tragedy.
Others who had just heard about it either from people in the waiting room or television broadcasts were visibly shocked. Those with firefighter family and friends waited anxiously for the city’s 3 p.m. press conference to hear the names of the two who were killed.
The only one smiling and laughing in the waiting rooms was a small child too young to understand that two heroes had died.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or email@example.com.
By Kathy Chaffin