Four years ago tomorrow, the fire service lost one of its best. Johnny Earl Morphew, Jr. was killed on his way to work during the early hours of January 28th, 2009. Morphew was a great asset to emergency services across the area, and had a wealth of knowledge that he had a passion to share with others. Morphew was an active member of the Chilhowie Fire Department, a Sergeant at Bristol VA Fire Department, and a Flight Medic with Wellmont One. I consider myself honored to know him as a friend, a coworker, an instructor, and a brother. He was much more than that though, because above all, he was a husband to a loving wife, a father to a loving daughter, and an inspiration to all.
Earl was a great instructor, and really knew how to deliver the information in a way that everyone could understand. The majority of his photos show his love for teaching others, whether it be Technical Rescue, Structural Firefighting, or EMS skills. He knew it like the back of his hand and it truly showed. If it was in the book, he expected you to know it. He loved constantly questioning other people almost to the point that you would get aggravated. At the time, I would think that he was doing it to prove how much he knew. In reality, he was doing it to make you learn and improve your own skills.
After Morphew passed, I often found myself looking back at the memories we had together. As I entered the fire service at age 16, Morphew had taught a lot of the first training classes that I ever attended. He was with me throughout my “rookie” years, and I was able to learn a lot from him. He had a passion for the fire service like no other. He dedicated his life to helping others, and always had high expectations from those that worked beside of him.
Earl passed away on the 1 year anniversary of being hired as a career firefighter. I have made it a personal goal to remember him on a daily basis. Over the years since his passing, I have incorporated small things into my job and belongings that remind me of him on a regular basis.
I obtained this photo of the bell from his funeral that is now matted, framed, and displayed in my house.
Morphew’s favorite quote now rests on the wall of our workout area at my volunteer department.
In 2009, my volunteer department hosted The Earl Morphew Memorial School Bus Rescue Course in memory of him. The class was already in the planning phase before Morphew passed away; several years prior, Morphew was one of many first responders that had responded to a school bus rollover in my home town.
I have carried an ID tag with his name and photo at four 9/11 Memorial Stair Climbs.
I wear a bracelet around my wrist on a daily basis that reads “Earl Morphew, 1-28-2009.”
Last year I purchased my Phenix TL-2 leather helmet. One of the many custom options that Phenix offers is the name stamping in the back brim of the helmet. I found a great use for that option when I had “RFB- E. Morphew” stamped in the brim.
During the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K that I ran in 09/12, I got the chance to customize my bib number. I chose to use his FD ID from my volunteer department, 219.
This is a picture of my helmet this week after a fire we had at work. To the left of my shield in the picture, the ID tag is now displayed.
I would be lying if I said that I haven’t shed tears just by looking back through the photos and typing this article. I wasn’t sure how much I would be able to write and if I would even be publishing it. I want each of you to take out of this article that we need to remember. Everyone has lost someone near and dear to their hearts at some point during their life. I make it a point to not let those be forgotten. When I entered the fire service as a career, I was tipping the scales at 313 lbs! Earl had often tried to get me on a work-out program, but I never was successful. I get on the truck every shift knowing that he is watching down over me. I don’t want to disappoint my family, my friends, or brother Morphew. This is my motivation to retain as much knowledge related to my career as possible, so I can return to the house after each shift.
Every year around the end of January, several of us that were good friends with Morphew get together for dinner. We sit around and reminisce about the good times that we had with him, and make even more memories with each other. This is another part of not forgetting. His infamous sayings always tend to come out in conversation, and we are able to laugh, smile, and even cry.
It’s hard to believe that four years have passed.It seems like only yesterday that I was awoken from bed and told the heart breaking news. Rest assured that I have not forgotten, and I am always sure to remind others of the influence he made on my life and career. I have embedded a video that I created several years ago to help share his life and legacy with others. I urge you to view the video and take part in Remembering.