Community News __Featured Slider — 16 February 2012
City mourns fallen paramedic

Firefighters and officials from across the region descended on Alexandria Thursday to join those already mourning the death of city paramedic Joshua Weissman.

His voice occasionally wavering, Alexandria Fire Chief Adam Thiel recalled the night Weissman plunged through a gap between highway overpass barriers into Four Mile Run creek during the paramedic’s funeral service at Beth El Hebrew Congregation.

“[I] made it, flat tire and a half later, and I’ll never forget the moment looking over the side of the bridge and seeing Josh,” Thiel said. “I think the only thing, for me, that could be worse than being there would have been not being there, because I was there to watch his brothers and sisters from Alexandria, Arlington, the state police, from all of our law enforcement agencies, to see his partner – longtime partner, tend him.”

Weissman, 33, of Bristow, was dispatched to a vehicle fire in the HOV lane of Interstate 395 near Shirlington on February 8. His unit was the first on scene at the overpass, and as Weissman made his way toward the fire, he fell 20 to 30 feet into Four Mile Run creek.

The fall left him with a severe head injury. Fellow emergency responders rescued an unconscious Weissman from the water and transported him to the hospital where he died less than 24 hours later. Weissman’s line-of-duty death is the first the department’s suffered in more than a century.

Gabe Weissman told mourners there was never a question about what path his brother would take in life.

“Josh was meant to be an emergency responder and he knew it from the beginning,” Gabe said, recalling the fierce loyalty his brother had for family – and his fellow first responders.

Gabe also read the remarks of Weissman’s wife, Rebecca, to the crowd, many in uniform. She described her husband as a loving man, good listener and a romantic. Weissman left her gifts on her pillow, brought home flowers and “never ended a conversation without saying ‘I love you,” she wrote.

She spoke of his dedication to his profession, writing that Weissman never tired of studying or trying to improve.

“He did not want to be good at what he did, he wanted to be great. And he was.”

The two met, fittingly, while serving as volunteer firefighters.

Fire officials also have recalled Weissman as a dedicated and active member of the department, organizing the city’s mass casualty plan, working with interns and routinely checking on patients he treated during the course of his career.

City fire personnel have been given from Wednesday until Friday evening off to honor Weissman. The shutdown will be “unnoticeable to the general public,” said Chief Fire Marshall Robert Rodriguez, because the department shares responsibility with Arlington and Fairfax counties as part of a regional agreement. Rodriguez said emergency 9-11 service would not be affected.

During the day, motorists weathered intermittent road closures along Janneys Lane from King Street to Quaker Lane; Seminary Road from Quaker Lane to Van Dorn Street; Van Dorn Street from Seminary Road to Braddock Road; Braddock Road from Van Dorn Street to King Street; and King Street from Braddock Road and Quaker Lane to Russell Road.

Alexandria City Public Schools were dismissed early today and after-school activities were cancelled. St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School sent students home at 11:30 a.m., and nearby Bishop Ireton also cut classes short.

A native of Ithaca, N.Y., Weissman received a slew of accolades and awards from residents and community groups during his time in Alexandria. Thiel described him as a wonderful man, upbeat and determined.

“Josh always had a smile,” Thiel said. “He was always positive. I never heard him say a negative word, but yet he was always willing to argue and make his point. He was tenacious.”

Find our live coverage of Thursday’s funeral below:

Updated 2:14

The procession from Beth El Hebrew Congregation to Ivy Hill Cemetery is now underway. The fire engine bedecked in black bunting and ribbons has pulled out into the street, bearing paramedic Joshua Weissman’s casket.

Updated 1:20 p.m.

Mourners, many bearing fire department uniforms, are departing Beth El Hebrew Congregation, following Weissman’s flag draped casket into the dreary weather outside. A color guard and fire engines hung with black bunting await them.

A procession will take Weissman’s body to Ivy Hill cemetery.

Updated 1:12 p.m.

Joshua Weissman’s flag draped casket is wheeled to the rear of Beth El Hebrew Congregation to Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

 

Updated 12:54

His voice occasionally wavering, Alexandria Fire Chief Adam Thiel recalls the night Weissman plunged through a gap between highway overpass barriers into Four Mile Run creek.

“[I] made it, flat tire and a half later, and I’ll never forget the moment looking over the side of the bridge and seeing Josh,” Thiel said. “I think the only thing, for me, that could be worse than being there would have been not being there, because I was there to watch his brothers and sisters from Alexandria, Arlington, the state police, from all of our law enforcement agencies, to see his partner – longtime partner, tend him.”

Weissman, who fell about 20 to 30 feet, suffered a severe head injury. An unconscious Weissman was pulled from the water by his fellow first responders and taken to a Washington hospital, where he died less than 24 hours later.

But Weissman shouldn’t have lived that long, Thiel said. That he did was a testament to his spirit.

“He was a fighter,” the fire chief said. “We had time with Josh after Wednesday night that by rights we should not have had.”

 

Updated 12:46

Weissman’s wife, Rebecca, has her remarks read by the fallen paramedic’s younger brother. She described her husband as a loving man, good listener and romantic. Weissman left her gifts on her pillow, brought home flowers and “never ended a conversation without saying ‘I love you,” she wrote.

She also spoke to his dedication, writing that Weissman never tired of studying or trying to improve.

“He did not want to be good at what he did, he wanted to be great. And he was.”

 

Updated 12:38

Weissman’s younger brother takes the podium, a flag draped casket before him. He describes Weissman as fiercely protective of his family and his “brothers and sisters” in the public safety field. Josh knew he was headed for a life in the fire department from the start, his brother said.

 

Friends, family, officials and colleagues have gathered at Beth El Hebrew Congregation to remember Alexandria Fire Department paramedic Joshua Weissman, who died last week after falling from a highway overpass while responding to a vehicle fire in Shirlington.

For our previous coverage of Weissman’s life and death, click here.

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