What it's like for Jacksonville firefighters to search for one of their own

Search off coast for missing boaters impacting fellow firefighters & loved ones

By Corley Peel - Reporter

MAYPORT, Fla. - News4Jax went out on a boat with Jacksonville firefighters as they searched for their fellow firefighter and his friend, both of whom are lost at sea.  

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue captain on the boat said Brian McCluney, a firefighter and paramedic with JFRD, is the type of man who would do anything for anyone. 

His fellow firefighters said they want to make sure they keep that mentality and do everything they can to bring home McCluney and Justin Walker, a firefighter from Fairfax, Virginia. 

The boat that News4Jax went on Tuesday afternoon with JFRD firefighters left from the Mayport boat ramp and went about 6 miles offshore. 

Firefighters said the conditions there were good for searching. The water was calm, giving crews good visibility on the water.

Other JFRD crews said they located 24 targets, including a cooler top, in the water Tuesday. The Coast Guard said it was not clear if the cooler top belongs to the two missing firefighters.

But with the searching moving forward, JFRD Capt. William Hood said the biggest challenge will be the current. 

“It’s just a large ocean and a very small object you’re trying to find," Hood said. "I mean, it really is a needle in a haystack."

Hood said it's difficult having to search for a fellow fireman. 

"He’s just the type of guy that would do anything for you. Just always in a good mood, just a great guy," Hood said of McCluney.

When asked if there was anything he would like McCluney and Walker to know, Hood said, "Just know that everyone is out looking for him. We’re not giving up. He’ll be found.”

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In addition to fellow firefighters, the search is also impacting loved ones. Walker’s cousin, Joseph Futch, told News4Jax that he and other family members have been out searching on a boat the last few days. Futch said if anyone could survive something like this, it would be Walker and McCluney.

“He and Brian have spent their adult life trying to help anyone they can, anytime they can. Now they need ours," Futch said. “We’ve got two brave firefighters that are missing and everyone needs to be doing what they can in order to bring them home.”

Futch described Walker as a "great guy."

"He’s always got a funny joke and helps anybody," Futch said.

Futch added he has faith the two men will be rescued.

“We’re just asking people not to lose faith, don’t lose hope," said Futch, who will be back on the water Wednesday. "We’re going to find them and we’re going to bring them back.”

JFRD asked for anyone in the Brunswick and Savannah areas with boats capable of operating 60 miles offshore who can help on Wednesday to call 904-813-5315 to coordinate. Other volunteers are asked to call 904-763-9747, as crews will be going out again Wednesday morning from the Mayport boat ramp. Donations can be made at JFRD.com.

The Coast Guard said it's a "race against time" to make sure McCluney and Walker are brought home safe. 

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