LAS VEGAS — Two federal firefighters killed in a crash after an apparent fire engine tire blow-out on a Nevada highway were roommates for the summer wildfire battle in the West, the father of one of them said Tuesday.
Jacob O’Malley, a seven-year Bureau of Land Management firefighter, had been promoted this year to captain of the three-member seasonal firefighting crew that crashed Sunday on State Highway 140 north of Winnemucca, said his father, Leonard O’Malley.
“We’re mourning the loss of our son,” said the father, a retired Lake Tahoe charter fishing boat owner from Zephyr Cove and an elder at Tahoe Community Church in Stateline. “But we had 27 years with him. God has a purpose. Something good will come out of this.”
Jacob O’Malley’s roommate in Winnemucca, Will Hawkins, 22, was from Reno, where his parents were making funeral arrangements and declined to talk with The Associated Press.
A third fire crew member, Zachary McElroy, 23, of Reno, was injured and is recovering at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno.
“We just met Zachary at the hospital,” Leonard O’Malley said of himself and his wife, Cynthia. “He’s banged up fairly good. My feeling is he’s got the hardest job, to recover and relive all that.”
Bureau officials said Monday the crash happened while the crew returned to Winnemucca from fire-spotting patrol near the Oregon state line town of Denio.
Leonard O’Malley said he was told that another fire crew from Idaho was following in another vehicle and saw the right rear tire disintegrate on the fire engine that Jacob O’Malley was driving.
“With the truck full of water, he tried to correct,” his father said. But the vehicle swerved and rolled over several times on State Route 140 about 6 miles west of the junction with U.S. 95.
Jacob O’Malley was a solid 6-foot-2-inches and 220 pounds who spent winters skiing and summers fighting fires. His dad said he’d been making plans to marry his girlfriend, Bettina Scherer.
The couple hadn’t set a date, but Leonard O’Malley said his son obtained Scherer’s father’s blessing for the marriage during a Scherer family gathering last Christmas in New York.
Jacob O’Malley got a weekend off in June to attend an O’Malley family wedding in Kirkwood, California, and spent the following weekend fighting a nearly 200-square-mile rangeland fire between the northern Nevada town of Battle Mountain and the Idaho state line.
“It was rewarding as a parent to see your son take off and take care of himself and take care of others and be a part of the community,” the elder O’Malley said. “We couldn’t have been more proud of how he was conducting himself and the people he was hanging around with.”