First Responders

Overexertion, Truck Collision Claim Lives of 3 Firefighters

January 13, 2022Noelle Wiehe

The first three firefighter line-of-duty deaths recorded by the US Fire Administration for 2022 are, from left, Nebraska’s Lincoln Fire and Rescue Fire Inspector and Investigator Donald Gross and, from Wisconsin’s Mineral Point Fire Department, Capt. Brian Cecil Busch and Firefighter James “Jim” Michael Ludlum. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

Overexertion at the scene of a fire and a vehicle collision claimed the lives of three firefighters at the dawn of 2022, according to the US Fire Administration

In Wisconsin, a semitrailer truck struck and killed two Mineral Point Fire Department firefighters on US 151 near mile marker 38. In Nebraska, a fire inspector died in his home from a heart attack, a day after being on the scene of a burning residence. 

Although the US Fire Administration places Barstow Fire Protection District Fire Engineer David Spink at the top of its list of personnel who died in the line of duty in 2022, he actually is the fourth to perish.

He died on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, from injuries he sustained Dec. 5, 2021, when he was struck by a vehicle on Interstate 15 in Barstow, California. That’s several days after Capt. Brian Cecil Busch, 43, and Firefighter James “Jim” Michael Ludlum, 69, of Wisconsin’s Mineral Point Fire Department, and Nebraska’s Lincoln Fire and Rescue Fire Inspector and Investigator Donald Gross, 57, died in separate incidents.

Brian Cecil Busch and James Michael Ludlum

Capt. Brian Cecil Busch, 43, and Firefighter James “Jim” Michael Ludlum, 69, of the Mineral Point Fire Department died in the line of duty Thursday, Jan. 6, in Wisconsin. 

The two volunteer firefighters were responding to an accident on US 151 just after midnight on a chilly day in America’s Dairyland state. They were in a firetruck, attempting an emergency crossover — using a first responder pathway across the asphalt to rapidly switch sides on a divided roadway — when a semitrailer truck driving north struck them.

After sustaining extensive damage, the firetruck ignited and burned. 

Both firefighters died at the scene of the accident. The truck driver escaped injury.

The Mineral Point Fire Department has 32 volunteer fire personnel who answer approximately 100 calls annually within an area of 152 square miles.  

Community members lined Iowa County streets Friday as a procession carried the bodies of the two firefighters from a funeral home to the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Surgical Pathology and Autopsy department in Madison. 

Busch, a 25-year volunteer firefighter with the Mineral Point Fire Department, worked as a blaster for Ahlgrimm Explosives, according to his obituary. He also taught fire safety to Mineral Point students. 

Busch was born Sept. 4, 1978, to Mark Busch and Elaine Busch (née Flanagan) in Dodgeville. He is survived by his parents; wife, Laura (née Rodger); children, Jackson, Annabelle, and Eleanor; brother, Andy; and sisters, Amy and Melissa. 

A Mass of Christian Burial is slated for 11 a.m. Friday at Ss. Mary and Paul Catholic Church in Mineral Point. 

A volunteer firefighter for 37 years, Ludlum also served as a US Army Reserve soldier for 22 years. He had worked as an agricultural mechanic at Farmers Implement Store in Mineral Point since he was a teenager, according to his obituary

He was born Jan. 29, 1952, to Willard Ludlum and Agnes Ludlum (née Palzkill).

Ludlum was preceded in death by his parents; his wife, Sheila (née Gilman); and his brother William. 

Ludlum is survived by his sons, Adam and Troy; grandchildren, Rylee, Erica Rose, Preston, and Austin; and siblings Clarita, John, Mary, Robert, Thomas, Charles, Terry, and Kenneth.

A Mass of Christian Burial was slated for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Ss. Mary and Paul Catholic Church in Mineral Point. 

Claimed the Lives
Lincoln Fire and Rescue Inspector Donald “Don” Gross joined the department in 1991 as a firefighter. He was promoted to fire apparatus operator in 1995 and became a fire inspector in 1997. City of Lincoln photo.

Donald Gene Gross

Lincoln Fire and Rescue Fire Inspector and Investigator Donald Gross died Jan. 4 in his Nebraska residence after responding to a residential fire the previous day.

According to his obituary, Gross also responded to multiple incidents in Lincoln during the weekend preceding his death.

He returned home and went to sleep on the couch while watching the TV show Yellowstone alongside his silver Labrador retriever, Gunney Hurd. According to the US Fire Administration, he also had complained of chest pains.

He was found dead on the morning of Jan. 4. Investigators listed his cause of death as stress and overexertion leading to a heart attack. 

Gross, 57, became the first firefighter to die in the line of duty in 2022, according to the US Fire Administration.

Gross joined Lincoln Fire and Rescue as a firefighter in 1991 and was promoted to fire inspector within six years, according to a Jan. 4 social media post by the department. He also served on the department’s bomb squad. 

“Don was very passionate about his work and was always willing to instruct our recruits and others on the operations of fire prevention and investigation,” officials said in the post.

He served as a member of the US Army National Guard, enlisting as a private and retiring as a major. A helicopter pilot, he deployed to Mexico, Kosovo, Iraq, and Somalia. 

truck collision
Lincoln Fire and Rescue Fire Inspector and Investigator Donald Gross served in the US Army National Guard, enlisting as a private and retiring as a major. A helicopter pilot, he deployed to Mexico, Kosovo, Iraq, and Somalia. City of Lincoln photo.

Donald Gene Gross was born Jan. 25, 1964, to Richard Gross and Connie Gross (née Haynes) in Des Moines, Iowa. He was raised by his grandparents, Tracy Gross and John Gross, in Adel, Iowa, according to his obituary

He is survived by his wife, Allison; four stepsons, Gavin, Jude, Taber, and Zane; daughter, Taylor Renee; and sisters, Leslie and Lisa. 

His funeral service was held Monday at the Lincoln Fire Fighters Reception HallAccording to his obituary, the funeral home cremated his remains and returned his ashes to his family. 

Read Next: Why Did Federal Prosecutors Sue 35 Gods and Goddesses?

Noelle Wiehe
Noelle Wiehe

Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.

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