Albany man, 19, dies fighting fire: 'We owe him our gratitude'

Albany man, 19, dies fighting fire: 'We owe him our gratitude'
Jesse Trader in a photo from his Facebook page

ALBANY, Ore. — A 19-year-old water truck driver from Albany working on one of five major forest fires in southwestern Oregon has died in a crash.

Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson says Jesse Trader was returning a truck that was used all of Monday night and into Tuesday morning at the Big Windy complex of fires.

The truck hit a rural road embankment and rolled over on Bear Camp Road.

Firefighters in vehicles driving behind Trader immediately stopped to assist. 

An advanced life support ambulance arrived on scene within minutes and life flight was quickly launched; however, all efforts to save Jessie were unsuccessful.

"Jesse was part of the emergency response to one of the more serious fires burning in Oregon," Governor John Kitzhaber said Tuesday. "Even at such a young age, he was already contributing mightily to his community, and we owe him our gratitude for his commitment to helping protect his fellow citizens. My prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time, and my thoughts are with all emergency responders on the front lines during this severe wildfire season."

Trader was a 2012 West Albany High School graduate. He played football and baseball and was an avid outdoorsman, according to his Facebook page.

“He was 19 and too young to die,” said Ed Pentecost, Trader's uncle.

The family got the message around 10:30 Tuesday morning that Jesse had died, Pentecost said. Trader’s parents immediately started out for Grant’s Pass to claim their son's body.

Pentecost said that his nephew was working for another uncle’s rural fire department and had gone down to Josephine last week.

“He really wanted to be a firefighter,” he said. “He thought this would be great training. He thought this would be a way toward being a big city firefighter. Working for the fire department was a chance for him to learn a new skill.

“He was opening a new page in life’s book.”

Trader had just been accepted to Chemeketa Community College, where he was going to study to be an EMT, his uncle said. Previously he had been at Western Oregon University.

“He was good at whatever he wanted to be and he wanted to be a firefighter,” he said. “He was an outdoors person. He loved to be outside. He loved fishing and hunting and skiing and waterskiing.”

On Saturday, Trader had posted on his Facebook page: “Dreaming about the lake while woking on a wild fire is awful.”

Pentecost said he was referring to Foster Lake near Sweet Home.

“It’s where we all go,” he said. “The whole family. It’s the place where everyone would go to relax and have fun.”

Pentecost thought for a second.

“He was the kind of kid who would do anything for his family,” he finally said. “You could ask him anything and he would say yes. He was an awesome young man, giving, caring. He had a girl that he loved very much and who loved him.”

His uncle said Jesse had been with Brandi, a student at Oregon State, for four years.

“They were school sweethearts,” he said. “She is just so distraught.”

Pentecost said the family – which also includes Jesse’s younger brother and sister - are still trying to process the news.

“I don’t know how you move forward,” he said. “But I guess you do. We have each other and we will somehow find a way.

Pentecost said the family has always been close.

“We’ve always been this way, here for each other,” he said. “When Jesse was a kid, a baby, there would be times when he wouldn’t sleep. And me and my wife would come over and put him in the car and drive him around until he nodded off. He would be so peaceful.”

Pentecost said his favorite image of his nephew will always be him as a young kid.

“He used to run around in jean shorts, a batman cape and cowboy boots,” he said. “He wouldn’t take them off.

“He was quite a sight.”

Pentecost said that he had texted with Jesse early Tuesday morning.

“I asked him how’s it going? He wrote back, ‘It’s smoky and everyone’s wearing masks and it’s crazy.’

“I told him to be careful. He wrote back and said he would. He promised he would.”

He was the second crew member killed this wildfire season in Oregon, and the 29th nationally.

On Aug. 1, 58-year-old John Hammack was killed in Central Oregon when the tree he was cutting fell on him.

Colin Miner from KATU News contributed to this report