PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — There’s one question during the interview process that Paw Paw Fire Chief Jim DeGroff likes to ask firefighter candidates who want to join the department: “So what kinds of compensation are you looking for?”
The department, 40 members strong, is entirely volunteer, a tradition dating back to the 1868. No one gets paid for leaving their day jobs or getting up in the middle of the night to answer a call for help.
When Ethan Quillen gave his answer during his 2019 interview with the chief, DeGroff knew the Marine Corps veteran was the right person for the job.
“He said, ‘I’m not looking for any compensation. I just want to give back,'” DeGroff recalled. “Done for me. Bring him on.”
On Feb. 22, while answering a call for help, a power line came down on Quillen, electrocuting him. He was 28 years old.
It has been a difficult week for the department and community. The calls for help haven’t stopped. DeGroff’s shoulders have carried much of that weight.
“It hasn’t started getting any easier yet. A lot of us are not sleeping well,” DeGroff said. “The big things for me right now is not letting this department down, not letting the family down, not letting this community down.”
DeGroff and his fellow firefighters have found strength in support from the community, which has organized a fill the boots campaign and baked goods and candle sales to support Quillen’s wife and young daughter. A GoFundMe account for them has raised more than $130,000. People around the country have sent gifts and letters of condolences to members of his other family: his brothers and sisters at the fire department.
“Not emails. Literally the old-fashioned, just put it in the mailbox. God, it’s just touching,” DeGroff said.
Between calls, DeGroff and other Paw Paw firefighters have planned Quillen’s funeral Saturday. Fire departments from throughout the state, the Midwest and even further are expected to attend and the community is expected to line the streets.
“As the fire chief, I’m just trying to keep us all together,” DeGroff said. “Keep us going strong. And making sure Ethan is honored exactly like he should be.”