READING, Pa. - As you look through the ranks of the Reading Fire Department, you find a lot of commonality, similar paths of sacrifice in a dangerous line of work.
“James began his membership here as a volunteer around 1989 and he was an active volunteer here at this station,” said Deputy Fire Chief James Stoudt Jr.
Many make the jump from a “volley” to a career crew member. It’s often a family affair fighting fires.
“His father was an active volunteer here as he was a member of our explorer post program which him and I both came up together so we’ve known each other since we were about 13 years old,” said Stoudt.
But what’s not as common? An anomaly. A quickly spreading cancer that cut the life of 48-year-old firefighter, husband, father and grandfather James “Corky” Lerch Jr. short this week.
“There was no time at all,” said firefighter and treasurer Jeremy Grove. "This came on very, very sudden with him.”
Now a fellow firefighter transitions from helping Lerch plan for the years ahead and a long retirement to helping his wife, three daughters, and one granddaughter forge a path forward in grief.
“Talking about future goals on his part and how he wanted to buy a boat and making plans for the family,” Grove recalled.
“It’s a great task to provide for the family because it could be overwhelming at times,” Grove said.
Those that rode the truck with him, now draped in black bunting, want you to remember a man who, while his life was being rapidly threatened on the inside, wanted to keep putting his life on the line in his last days.
“He was here for a shift on Thursday but he ended up not finishing that shift because his condition was worsening but that was the kind of guy he was,” Stoudt said. “He wanted to be at work.”