Joseph Orr and Joseph Jordan
Joseph Jordan (left) and Joseph Orr (right)



a Follow-up on Firefighter Joseph Orr


By Linda Orr


Heroes don’t wear capes, but they often wear uniforms. There are soldiers who protect their country. Also, there are policemen and firemen, who risk their lives to perform their community service. Even doctors can heroically save lives, putting themselves at risk at times, as well. But, sometimes it is just one of those people among us, who isn’t dressed in a uniform of service.

For example, my cousin and her first husband witnessed an apartment building on fire one night when they passed by it. This was long before there were cell phones. They courageously pulled into the parking lot and began knocking on doors to get all of the people out of the burning building. There was no thought of neglecting this need. It had to be done. They received the opportunity which had presented itself. I was a wide-eyed child when she and her husband told my family about the incident. I have always admired them. They were good people, answering the call of duty.

My son, Joseph Orr, decided to become one of those uniformed heroes who serves our community. Joseph had already been serving those in need without the uniform. But, the uniform made it official. He became a volunteer firefighter with a fervent desire to achieve in his field. He aspired to learn as much as he could and to excel in his new role. However, Joseph was always reaching for the stars in everything that he set his mind to do. Yet, the very essence of Joseph was a desire to make things better. He was always focused on how he could help others.

Sadly, Joseph’s dreams got cut short. Just as his young life was beginning, tragically it was ended. He had gone hiking with his close friend, also named Joseph, on the day that he died. His friend would be leaving for the army, soon. They were spending time together before his friend left. They hiked to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the area. His friend had no interest in swimming that day. But, my son wanted to cool off and to experience the beauty of this remote site. Although it was a hot July day, the water was very cold. After only a couple of minutes, my son began to show distress.

Joseph’s friend heroically dove into the water when my son went under. His friend tried to find Joseph, but the current was already pulling my son away. Joseph’s friend pleaded with a nearby man to help him. The other man turned out to be an emergency room nurse with lifeguard training. He was concerned about the currents. By the time my son was retrieved, it was too late to bring him back. He had drowned. Even if he had been resuscitated, the site was far from cell service. It is possible that Joseph had suffered cold shock which can happen between one and three minutes after submersion. I believe that God brought my son home to heaven. He was already almost an angel on earth. I believe that I will see him again. This belief is the only way that I could bear this pain.

Afterward, the whole community was supportive. The company which he had worked for showed so much love and support for Joseph and his family. Our neighbors and friends were there for us in so many ways. The fire chief and some fellow firefighters came to offer their assistance. It was a terrible tragedy. But, the people around us were helping us to get through it. Promises were made by his chief. He invited me to come to a training night. His chief assured me that he would apply for a “firemen’s fund” to help with the expense of the funeral. Multiple emergency agencies put on an incredible funeral for their young firefighter who had tragically died in an off-duty accident. Some of the heroic first responders on the scene of Joseph’s tragic death also came to show their support.

So, imagine my surprise when the fire chief changed after the funeral. As soon as I got my son’s death certificate, I sent it over to his former fire department. When I tried to call his chief to verify that my son qualified for “the fund,” he did not answer nor return my calls. I decided that he just must be a very busy man.

I went over to observe a Thursday training night, and his chief did not stand to greet me. He rolled his eyes as if he was annoyed that I was there. I asked, “Is something wrong?” He said that the weather had caused a change of plans. I said that I could come another time. I asked him if he had found out if my son was qualified. The chief said that Joseph was. Then he got Joseph’s name plate for his helmet, so that I could take it home. He told me that the fund would be processed in about sixty days.

When I tried to contact the chief after about sixty days, he again did not return my calls. I asked the treasurer if she could ask him about the matter. She called the chief, and he immediately received the call. He told her that it might be ninety to a hundred and twenty days “after it gets approved.” The story had changed. This was when I really started to be stressed about the situation. I had told the funeral home about the fund. The director had called the chief to verify this. I came down with Bell’s Palsy because of the stress that I was enduring.

After about seven months, my oldest son happened to see the chief. He asked him about the claim. The chief told him that he would text a number for me to inquire about it. He did not follow through. So, I went online, and I thought that I had found the right place. It was called NCSFA (North Carolina State Firefighters’ Association). When I inquired, the lady on the phone was sad to tell me that there was no claim.

A couple of hours later, I received a call from the Deputy Director of NCSFA, Mr. Ed Brinson. He was very apologetic. He had already checked to see that Joseph qualified for what I was calling the fund. He explained to me that it was a group life insurance policy which covered all volunteer firefighters with life insurance. The coverage was a lesser amount for off-duty deaths. But still, it was a life insurance policy which had been paid for by the department for all of their men. It did not matter that Joseph was relatively new to the department. From day one, the coverage begins for the men and women who serve. Deputy Director Brinson became a hero for me from that day forward. He took the time to care and to educate me about the insurance coverage. He tried multiple times to reach the chief, but the chief never returned his calls.

I called our county’s Director of Emergency Services, Mr. William Cabe, and I poured my heart out about the entire matter. A heroic Mr. Cabe patiently listened to a very upset mother. He recalled my son’s tragic death with sorrow. Mr. Cabe immediately contacted the chief. He was told that they use another insurance company called VFIS. Mr. Cabe passed this information on to me. I was relieved for a moment. Then, I contacted VFIS to inquire about the status of the claim. Another polite employee sadly told me that there was no claim. I called Mr. Cabe, who had already left for the day, and left him a message that VFIS also had no claim.

The following morning, I visited my son’s unmarked grave. I cried. I asked God for Joseph’s prayers for all of this to be resolved. When I returned home, I had a call from the president of VFIS, Mr. Jackie Ireland. He was filled with compassion. Mr. Ireland was filling out a claim for Joseph so that it could be expedited. He needed Joseph’s social security number. Mr. Ireland asked me to fax a copy of Joseph’s death certificate. Afterward, I had to mail the death certificate. Yet, Mr. Ireland began the process with the faxed copy. He also told me that if he had to drive it here himself that he would. Across the state of North Carolina, it is about a seven-hour drive. I realized that I had just met another hero. He was an amazing and compassionate man. I felt like everything was going to be alright. However, Mr. Ireland needed for me to contact someone about Joseph’s beneficiary information.

Mr. Cabe had transferred the issue to the Fire Marshal, Mr. Jimmy Teem. Mr. Teem was also an amazing hero. He searched the fire department not once, but twice. It was a big deal to me because my son’s dad was in another state, living in a nursing facility. At the time, I thought that he was not capable of legally signing any document. Further, there was a lack of cooperation from the chief for any who were assisting in this matter. Mr. Teem was very patient, considering this. He was also patient with my emotional state.

Finally, I found out that Joseph’s father was not sedated. He could lawfully sign the legal documents to get this accomplished. Before I knew that, Mr. Jackie Ireland was attempting to send someone from VFIS’ Pennsylvania office to track down a caretaker to act on behalf of Joseph’s father. Mr. Ireland amazed me once again with his diligence and with his dedication to the firefighters’ families. My oldest son made a trip up north to get his dad to sign the documents, so we could open Joseph’s estate.

Now, Mr. Ireland wants to bring the check to me in person. He wants the opportunity to visit the area to raise awareness for the local volunteer fire chiefs about how important beneficiary information is. Mr. Ireland, president of VFIS, just keeps on thinking of others. He truly is a hero to the firefighters of North Carolina, as well, as to their families.

Throughout this ordeal, none of the heroes wore capes. Many of the heroes did wear uniforms. However, some of the heroes were in executive positions. Anyone, who cares so deeply to go so far out of their way to help a mother to honor her son, has gained my admiration for the rest of my life. It is a love for humanity which stirs these men to act. They wanted to make this blunder right. They truly wanted to make sure that Joseph was honored.



What good is life insurance coverage if the volunteer fire chiefs don’t understand that it exists? In order for families of fallen firefighters to receive this, their chiefs need to apply for it. Laws have changed. Insurance coverage has become more comprehensive. This coverage is already being paid for through the dues paid to the NCSFA.

I want to raise awareness about life insurance coverage for volunteer and retired firefighters. The majority of the firefighters in our country serve as volunteers. These heroic men and women have full time jobs and family obligations. As laws have changed to ensure greater insurance coverage for these men, many volunteers are evidently not aware of these changes.

The life insurance coverage covers off-duty deaths and retired firefighters, also. Please share the link of “Heroes Don’t Wear Capes” to all of the volunteer firefighters that you know. (Address link: