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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Journal Staff

Pleasanton, firefighting communities bid farewell to hero

Updated: Jul 1, 2022

Bagpipe player Ryan Evans leads drummers through a corridor of firefighters before they enter as a group into Pleasanton High School for the funeral of fallen firefighter Joshua Haynes. (Photos by Roger Sims, Linn County Journal)

PLEASANTON – The Pleasanton and first-responder communities on Wednesday, June 29, put to rest a man who selflessly volunteered to serve the people of Linn County.

Hundreds of friends, neighbors, firefighters, law enforcement officers and ambulance personnel joined with family at Pleasanton High School to honor Joshua Haynes. Haynes, a 35-year-old firefighter lost his life on June 22 to injuries sustained two days before while fighting a fire at a chiropractic clinic in Pleasanton.

The funeral service can be seen in its entirety at this link.

The funeral drew firefighters from around the region, many of whom did not know Haynes personally, but were there to honor a fallen comrade. The funeral, the following procession, and burial service at Pleasanton Cemetery was marked by ritual, again to honor the fallen.

Fire companies from across the region sent representatives to the funeral service.

Chris Pinion, a pastor with Taking It to the Streets, led the funeral service. Taking It to the Streets is a non-profit organization that provides support to emergency services, and Pinion was with Haynes and his family at the hospital after he was injured.

Pinion read letters and introduced Haynes sister, Virginia Haynes, as well as his fellow firefighters from Linn County Fire Department’s Pleasanton station.

Virginia Haynes read a statement from the family and started out by saying how she believed he was watching the proceedings with that “smirky laugh that he usually did.” She talked about him joining the volunteer fire department as soon as he turned 18.

She said one of his great passions was for country music, and that he was learning to play the guitar. Another passion: race car driving. And she spoke about how he loved his “race car family.”

Virginia Haynes, sister of firefighter Josh Haynes, reads a statement from the family at the beginning of the service. Seated from left, Chris Pinion with Taking It to the Streets, Linn County Fire Chief Randy Hegwald and Station No. 920 Capt. Jeff Wisdom listen as she speaks.

Other things that Josh liked were barbecue, dill pickles, and fishing with his father and friends. But that which was most dear to his heart, she said, were his four children.

“They were his whole life,” Virginia said.

“This is not ‘Goodbye.’ This is, ‘Until we meet again.’ You will forever be our hero,” she added.

Pinion read a letter from his daughter, Jocelyn, who remembered her father helping her when she accidentally had a splinter imbedded in her foot and he worked with her for two hours trying to remove all of it before taking her to the medical clinic.

He read daughter Mikayla’s memories which included being in the garage with her dad, dancing and working on cars. Pinion’s voice broke as he read those letters.

The PHS gym was almost at capacity seating for the funeral. To the left and up above sat family and friends. To the right sat firefighters, law enforcement officers and ambulance team members.

Pinion also read a letter from outgoing Linn County Fire Chief Doug Barlet, who is retiring as of July 1 and who apologized for not attending but felt that, after being exposed to Covid, he should not attend. In his letter, Barlet talked about the service of Josh’s parents, Sandra and Eddie Haynes, and his siblings, who set an example in their service to the fire department and other organizations.

In the letter, Barlet wrote about how anxious Josh was to join the department when he was in his teens, how he was often seen tirelessly working at the fire station, how he worked his way up through the ranks, and how he took new firefighters under his wing to teach them what he knew.

“Josh’s death is a tragedy for us all,” Bartlett’s letter concluded.

Randy Hegwald, the new fire chief for the county, asked the audience to remember one word as he spoke: passion.

Firefighters from Station No. 920 carry the casket up stairs to load it on top of a fire truck that would lead the procession through the streets of Pleasanton.

He said he first met Josh on a fire call with Josh holding the fire hose on a trash fire, a Black and Mild brand cigar hanging from his lips. After the call, they met again back at the station. He said Josh introduced himself to the new fire chief and said, “‘Just to let you know, this is my passion,’ and pointed to the fire station. And he was correct, it was his passion.”

Jeff Wisdom, captain of the Pleasanton station No. 920, talked about how Josh was always doing things for others and asking nothing in return. When a call was over, he would check in on his fellow brothers and sisters at the fire station to make sure they were OK, even though sometimes he was hurting like the rest of us, Wisdom said.

“This is a tragedy for his family, his friends, his fellow first-responders and this community,” Wisdom said. “But we will get through this, because we will stand together. No one stands alone, and we will be a better community and a better responder because of this.”

Fire engine No. 921 starts on its journey through the city carrying the casket with a welded plaque bearing Josh Haynes radio call number.

Other members of Station 920 talked of how they knew Josh and what he had meant to them. The audience laughed when fellow fighter Travis Laver, who has been a teacher and now superintendent for the Pleasanton school district, recounted a time that he and Josh waded deep into water for a rescue.

Their work was complete, and they were beginning to suffer from hypothermia. The two returned to the cab of the fire truck and decided to take off their clothes so they could get warm. While they waited for Josh’s sister, Renea Marshall, to bring dry clothes, according to Laver, “Josh decided it was a good time to take a selfie.”

The funeral procession stretches out about a mile as it nears the cemetery. A truck supplied by the Osawatomie Fire Department hoisted a U.S. flag above the route.

With nothing but helmets to cover themselves, the picture was taken. And apparently sent because, Laver said, at least one of the firefighters still had the picture on his phone.

Chris Heisler, with the Washington, D.C.-based Honor Network which he founded, talked about the U.S. Honor Flag that had flown above the ruins following the September 11, 2001 attack in New York City and had flown to the space station. He brought it to honor Josh, and said that the gloves used to handle that flag would be left with Josh’s family. He said the flag would next go to Louisiana to honor two firefighters who died fighting a fire in Texas.

“To the Haynes family, thank you for sharing your father, your son, and thank you for allowing us to know this man – a hero that will absolutely never be forgotten,” Heisler said.

State 4th District Rep. Trevor Jacobs of Fort Scott presented the family with a Kansas state flag that was flown over the capitol, thanking them for their service and for Josh’s service to the community.

Station 920 firefighters Warren Flores Gonzales, left, and Brenton Laver hold Josh Haynes turnout gear at the cemetery. Gonzales said that Josh and other firemen would smoke a Black and Mild cigar, Josh's favorite, after a fire call.

Following the ceremony, Josh’s flag-draped casket was lifted onto the top of a fire truck. With sirens sounding, the truck began a journey through Pleasanton that wound through the city for about half an hour before arriving at the Pleasanton Cemetery.

It drove past several buildings with flags lowered to half staff. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly ordered that flags be lowered to commemorate Josh on the day of the funeral.

At the cemetery, the ceremony continued with "Amazing Grace" played on the bagpipe. The family was given the U.S. flag that draped the coffin as well as a helmet and other items.

Travis Laver played "Taps" on the trumpet, an air ambulance provided by American Medical Response (AMR) conducted a fly-over, and the honor guard provided for the funeral rang an ornate brass bell.

The service ended with a radio dispatch on a loud speaker for No. 9203, Josh's radio code. After several attempts to contact him, the dispatcher noted that he was no longer in service and said that his fellow first-responders would care for his children and the rest of the family.

Members of the honor guard ring the bell signifying the loss of a comrade.

Note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of the new Linn County Fire Chief Randy Hegwald. We regret the error.

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