Two people suffered storm-related deaths in Poweshiek County last week and friends and co-workers remember them as selfless people who would do anything for anybody at any time.
Chris Keller, 41, a member of the Brooklyn Fire Department and a City of Brooklyn employee with the utilities department, died after being electrocuted by a downed powerline following the Monday, Aug. 10 derecho that struck the area.
Samantha Wierson, 41, a mother of five and member of the Malcom Fire Department, died on Tuesday, Aug. 11 after being struck a day earlier by falling debris in her home during the derecho storm.
A spokesperson with the Malcom Fire Department said Samantha joined the department in 2012 where she served as a volunteer firefighter/EMT and a CPR instructor.
Members of the MFD said she was great at her job and that she made sure you knew what you were doing before she let you leave training.
“Samantha was a very kind and caring person,” added Daniel McCammant, a volunteer with the MFD. “She was always willing to jump in and help out wherever it was needed. She was a great person to have known and will be deeply missed.”
Sara Ranfeld, a volunteer with the Malcom Fire Department, said when she and Samantha first joined the Malcom Fire Department the two decided to participate in the water fights that year during the Montezuma “Let Freedom Ring” Celebration, and it was quite an experience.
“My feet got tangled up with the hose and I did a somersault into the support poles,” recalled Sara. “I was so embarrassed, but we all got a good laugh. It was something we both never forgot.”
According to her obituary, Samantha worked for the Lucas County Hospital in Chariton and also served on the Indianola and Williamson fire departments before relocating to Malcom. She had worked at Freemont Farms, Elite Elevations with her brother, Jeff, and worked weekends at an EMT for the Belle Plaine Fire Department. She was also a volunteer for PALS in Grinnell.
Survivors include her husband, Jess, and children, Connor Gillson, Tucker Wierson, Zoie Wierson, Isaac Wierson and Collin Wierson.
Graveside services for Samantha were held on Saturday, Aug. 15 at Sandyville Cemetery, Sandyville, Iowa.
A GoFundMe account has been set up for Samantha to help the Wierson family with related expenses. Julie Wierson, who organized the fundraiser, said Samantha left us with an incredible example of a life to mirror.
“Her grit is truly the stuff of legend,” she said.
Chris joined the Brooklyn Fire Department in September 2002 where he also served as chief during part of that time.
Michelle Graham, wife of BFD firefighter Brad Graham, said Chris was a great firefighter, awesome city worker and an even better man, husband and father.
“It is such a loss to this community,” said Michelle. “He will be missed by this community for years to come. We are #BROOKLYNSTRONG and through this we will rise and grow stronger as a community keeping Chris’ memory alive for his wife, children, sister and family. They are all in my thoughts and prayers.”
Traci Smith, Director of the East Poweshiek Ambulance Service, who has known Chris for more than 15 years, said he was a good man and was a huge asset to the fire department.
“He was the hardest worker on any scene and had so much knowledge about almost anything,” said Traci. “You always knew Chris would be there and ready to help no matter what the situation was. This is a horrible blow to lose a member of your service. This is a tragic loss for all of us in so many different ways and for so many reasons.”
Carl Tubbs, a volunteer with the Brooklyn Fire Department, said Chris helped him get his start on the department and showed him the way.
“He was a very big asset to our community,” said Carl. “He served on the city council and on the Brooklyn Telephone Board.”
Anne McCulley, mother of Chris’ wife, Leah, said in a Facebook post that she appreciates everyone who has shown their support to Leah and the couple’s three children, Shamus, Shawn and Shaelynn, during this difficult time.
Anne went on to say that Chris was passionate about wrestling and was a dedicated coach for the last 10 years.
“He loved watching his boys, their teams and the Iowa Hawkeyes wrestle,” Anne said in the post.
In Chris’ honor, memorial donations are being accepted to help purchase a Trackwrestling clock for the BGM Wrestling team. Checks can be made payable to Cement Mixer Wrestling Club and dropped off or mailed to: First State Bank, P.O. Box 532, Brooklyn, Iowa 52211.
Brandon Wanders, a volunteer with the neighboring Deep River Fire Department, said it has been an honor to have known both Chris and Samantha.
“I just keep thinking it can’t be real,” said Brandon. “Thinking we will see them on the next call or the next fundraiser. To the neighboring departments, we are here for you. We will take it from here. To all my brothers and sisters out there, please say a little prayer for these families and departments.”