Community mourns loss of Cary, Swift Creek firefighter

aspecht@newsobserver.comDecember 28, 2013 

— Jon Schondelmayer wasn’t fond of taking breaks when he responded to calls as a firefighter, and he was often the last one to leave a fire.

That’s how Cary Fire Chief Allan Cain remembers Schondelmayer, a 19-year fireman who also worked part time with the Swift Creek Fire Department for 18 years.

Schondelmayer, who served as a captain for the Cary Fire Department, died unexpectedly Dec. 18. He was 44.

Schondelmayer, a father of two, was known by his friends and co-workers as a natural leader and relentless worker.

“Jon had these inherent and innate leadership capabilities that were really unique,” Cain said.

“We had to watch him a lot because you’re supposed to take a break and replenish yourself, and he did not like taking breaks. You would really have to pull him out of the fires. He would go and would not stop until the job was done.”

Schondelmayer’s active nature – besides working two jobs, he was an avid outdoorsman – is part of the reason his death was so surprising, said Bryant Woodall, chief of the Swift Creek Fire Department.

The cause of Schondelmayer’s death remains unknown. Schondelmayer was working a shift at the Swift Creek station the morning he died.

“He had been checking equipment, taking inventory that morning,” Woodall said.

Shortly before noon that day, Schondelmayer said he was in a lot of pain. He drove to his home less than a mile away from the station to take medicine, Woodall said.

“We called 10 minutes later, and he answered and said he wasn’t doing well,” Woodall said. “When EMS reached his house, he was unresponsive.

“It’s a tragic situation,” he continued. “We really miss him.”

Schondelmayer was born in Muskegon, Mich., and entered the Marine Corps after graduating high school. He served six years, during which time he saw active duty in Desert Storm.

Woodall figures Schondelmayer’s time in the Marines honed his work ethic.

“Mechanically, he was real good with his hands working with trucks and equipment,” he said. “He would learn not only how to run the apparatus but figure out how it works.”

And Schondelmayer was fun to be around.

“Around the station, he was about an easy-going guy as you’ll find,” said Barry Jones, a Cary battalion chief. “He was just a great guy who died way too young.”

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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