Allegan County News & Union Enterprise News

Fallen firefighter Gail VanAuken honored firetruck 1511

By Donald Talonen

The rain didn’t stop the celebration dedicated to Gail VanAuken. The firehouse was packed with friends, family, and even strangers for the unveiling of fire engine 1511 in honor of the fallen firefighter, just in time for Memorial Day.
On Thursday, May 2nd at 7:30 pm, the Overisel Township Fire Department honored fallen firefighter Gail VanAuken by unveiling a memorial bell installed on their new fire engine 1511. The bell is a traditional means of summoning firefighters and communicating the type of emergency or the end of a shift. Also, the bell has been used for centuries to toll a distinct sequence of five bells to honor firefighters who have died in the line of duty.
The Overisel Township Fire Department Facebook page remembered Gail in a heartfelt post stating “Firefighter VanAuken proudly served for four years on Overisel Township Fire Department before ultimately giving her life in the line of duty while responding to a mutual aid fire on November 2, 2000. Beyond her dedication to her family and serving on the fire department, she was a big part of the community as a longtime paraprofessional at Bentheim Elementary, an active volunteer at her church Diamond Springs Wesleyan, busy capturing smiling faces with her and her husband’s photography business, and so much more.”
Gail was fondly remembered, leaving a long-lasting impact on her community. Overisel Township Fire Department commented via Facebook that Firefighter VanAuken embodied the logo on our trucks, “Of the Community, For the community.” We are proud to share this memorial bell with her family, friends, and community as a tribute to both her selfless service and ultimate sacrifice.”
Gail VanAuken, who had been a certified E.M.T. and firefighter, died on November 2‚ 2000‚ in a motor vehicle accident while responding to a fire call. She volunteered with the Bentheim branch of the Overisel Township Fire Department and Navy Reserve for four years. Gail was also a teacher’s aide at Bentheim Elementary School and a member of Diamond Springs Wesleyan Church. Extended family members stepped in to provide needed connections to Gail’s husband and kids, with support along the way from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
Gail and her husband Richard VanAuken were responding to a mutual aid call to a turkey barn fire around 2:30 a.m. when the crash occurred. While responding to the call, the 2,000-gallon firetruck was struck in the rear axle by a pickup truck while crossing an intersection. The firetruck was forced off the road and rolled pinning both VanAuken’s. Richard suffered minor injuries and was treated at a local hospital. The Fire Chief at the time, Jim Mentzer, remembered Gail by saying “Basically, if anybody needed anything, Gail was there”.
Gail was a certified firefighter in the Overisel Township Fire Department. Gail earned her degree from Grand Valley State University. As a teacher’s aide at Bentheim Elementary School Gail taught a fire prevention program she had developed for the students. Principal Jim Zeedyk described her as “a vital part of our community”. Gail and Richard, her husband, owned VanAuken Photography as well.
Gail Van Auken’s name is inscribed on the Michigan Fallen Heroes Memorial Monument, Stone 3, Row 27. The memorial is located at the intersection of County Center Drive East (north entrance) and N. Telegraph Rd., on Oakland County’s complex at 1200 North Telegraph Road in Pontiac, Michigan.

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