‘Every firefighter has a broken heart’: Lancaster assistant chief killed at wreck

The assistant chief of the Van Wyck fire department in Lancaster County was killed Wednesday while directing traffic around a wreck, police and coroner officials said.

Dennis Straight, 59, of Lancaster died around 8 p.m. Tuesday at Springs Memorial Hospital, said Lancaster County Deputy Coroner Jennifer Collins.

Fire officials in Lancaster County and around South Carolina were shocked and deeply saddened by Straight’s death.

“It is with deep regret that the announcement is made of the death of Charlotte Road/Van Wyck Assistant Fire Chief Dennis Straight, who lost his life in the line of duty while working at a motor vehicle collision scene,” said Lancaster County Fire Marshal Russell Rogers.

Straight was a volunteer for more than 20 years with the Charlotte Road/Van Wyck department that serves much of the Indian Land and middle areas of Lancaster County, between Lancaster and the North Carolina border.

Fellow firefighters described Straight as “a great man” and “dedicated to the people of Lancaster County.”

Darren Player, Lancaster County Emergency Management director, who has more than 40 years with the fire service in Lancaster County, described Straight as a “super, generous man.” Player knew him and worked with for more than two decades.

Straight was known for years as being Santa Claus for children when the Van Wyck fire truck would deliver toys and gifts to the community, those close to him said.

Straight was struck around 7 p.m. while working a crash at U.S. 521 and S.C. 5 in Lancaster County, said S.C. Highway Patrol Cpl. Bill Rhyne.

The crash site is about five miles north of Lancaster, near the town of Van Wyck.

The vehicle that hit Straight was driven by a 33-year-old man from Kershaw, Rhyne said. That driver was not injured, police said.

The vehicle was turning onto S.C. 5 from U.S 521 when Straight was hit, Rhyne said.

Straight was directing traffic on the on-ramp from northbound U.S. 521 when he was hit, Collins said.

The incident remains under investigation by the highway patrol Major Accident Investigation Team.

The earlier crash happened around 6:15 p.m. Straight went to the scene to help with traffic flow, Rogers said.

Straight leaves a wife and other family, Rogers said.

Lancaster County emergency officials have not set a memorial service date and time for Straight.

“Please keep Chief Straight’s wife, emergency responders and his family in your thoughts and prayers,” Rogers said.

Other departments in Lancaster County are available to help with calls in the Van Wyck area as the department faces the loss of Straight.

Firefighters in York and Chester counties, who worked with Straight, said he was a “terrific guy” known for his professionalism. Traffic wrecks where firefighters are working and handling detours are especially hazardous, firefighters said.

“I knew Dennis and he was a good one,” said Tommy White, chief of the Lesslie Fire Department in York County, across the Catawba River from the Van Wyck station. “We all have been out there at calls where our firefighters are trying to help and handle the call, but worrying about the traffic at the same time.”

T. Melton, assistant chief at the Richburg Fire Department in Chester County, said people may believe that running into burning buildings is the most dangerous part of the job, but traffic crashes are more dangerous.

“Every day, we have people out at scenes, on the side of the road helping people and directing traffic, and it can be extremely dangerous,” Melton said. ‘You can’t predict what will happen in that traffic situation.”

Melton said that the death of Straight “affects every one of us in the fire service.”

“Every firefighter at every station in South Carolina has a broken heart,” Melton said. ‘We will do everything we can for Dennis Straight’s family, his department, and the public that he served.”

Allen Culp, chief of the Fort Lawn Volunteer Fire Department in Chester County, said his department will do whatever is asked to help handle any calls or assist Van Wyck firefighters.

Check back for updates.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @AndrewDysHerald
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