Firefighters lean on each other as search grows grim

Chaplain, emotional support dog on hand for grieving first responders

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Chaplin stopped by the command center Thursday to check on the crews and to pray for the safe return of our brothers. (Photo: JFRD)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It has been an emotional rollercoaster for firefighters who’ve searched both on and off duty for the two missing fellow firefighters.

At a noon Thursday news conference, Interim Jacksonville Fire Rescue Chief Keith Powers and Coast Guard Captain Mark Vlaun announced they will suspend the search for Brian McCluney and Justin Parker at sundown.

“I just left the families right before I came out here and their heart broke and I can’t say I feel any differently right now,” Powers said. 

All week, Jacksonville firefighters were holding out hope, but Thursday afternoon, Powers had a different tone.

“We are suspending our active search as well at sundown as well today,” Powers said. “That is an extremely tough decision because we have a brother out there that we just haven’t been able to find.” 

Earlier, JFRD’s chaplain led the team in prayer.

Another resource for grieving first responders was an emotional support dog.

News4Jax crews saw the dedication first hand through the week with firefighters volunteering their time and money to take out private boats and planes.

On Wednesday, four firefighters became spotters on board a U.S. Customs and Border Protection P-3 Orion flight, spending hours looking out the window and scouring the horizon for a sign of the missing mariners.

“It’s tough because you want to find somebody so badly,” said Lt. Ross Stockwell. “It’s difficult being so patient. But while I’m looking out there, I’m praying, and we always have that.”

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Two departments, Jacksonville and Fairfax County, Virginia, have now bonded as one.

“I am proud and thanks for hosting us,” said Chief John Butler, the Fairfax County fire chief who has been in Jacksonville for the search. 

Together they said first responders make it day by day.

"It is unimaginable,” Powers added. “They are heartbroken and going through a hard time. Keep those families in your thoughts and prayers.” 

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