PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — A national nonprofit has paid off the mortgages of two Van Buren County first responders who died serving their communities, news the sheriff said “floored” him.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation announced the gift last week. The families of Paw Paw firefighter Lt. Ethan Quillen and Van Buren County Sheriff’s Deputy James Lear will not have to worry about the burden of a mortgage because of the generosity.
Paw Paw Fire Department Chief Jim DeGroff said the department is grateful for the support for Quillen’s family. Quillen, a Marine veteran, was killed on the job in February while responding to a downed power line during an ice storm. He left behind a daughter and wife.
“I can only imagine that it’s got to be a huge relief to her and I’m so happy for her, for this, and I’m so happy for the family,” DeGroff said.
His department is made up entirely of volunteers.
“(Quillen) left his dinner table and didn’t come back and he wasn’t being compensated for any of it that night,” DeGroff said.
Lear died in December 2021 of complications from COVID-19, which the nonprofit says he contracted on the job. An Army veteran, he left behind four children and a wife.
“I was confident that (Lear’s wife would) be helped out right out the get-go, but I was absolutely floored when I heard they paid off their mortgage,” Sheriff Daniel Abbott said.
“We put this uniform on, we don’t do it for a pat on the back. It’s a calling. And when you get something like this, to see an organization like this step up and do what they’ve done, it’s huge. It’s very humbling,” he added.
The sheriff’s department honored Lear by naming its new K-9 with Lear’s nickname.
“His nickname was Jett because he was like a jet. Every time a call would come in, he would be the first one to pick it up. He was high speed all the time,” Abbott said.
The support from the foundation and the community has touched the hearts of both the sheriff’s office and the Paw Paw Fire Department.
“The donations, the GoFundMe page, the Tunnel to Towers organization, it really helps the chief or the sheriff or the police chief, it helps you get through all this because you want to do nothing but to give the best to the family,” DeGroff said.