Hamilton, NJ – Mizpah Volunteer Fire Company Firefighter Natalie Dempsey died in the line of duty on Christmas morning, when she lost control of her vehicle while responding to a structure fire.
Firefighter Dempsey, 21, was on her way to fight the fire at approximately 6:20 a.m., when the 2001 Honda Accord she was driving veered off of the roadway and slammed into a guardrail, WPVI reported.
The fatal crash occurred just a few hundred yards away from the fire station, MVPC Chief Jay Davenport said.
Unaware of the collision, MVFC firefighters finished putting out the blaze that Firefighter Dempsey had been responding to, then headed to the scene of their next call – a car crash.
It wasn’t until they arrived at the scene that the crew realized the victim was a fellow firefighter.
"We stopped in the truck to assist and we walked up on the car and realized what it was," Chief Davenport said.
Firefighter Dempsey, the MVFC’s vice president, was pronounced dead at the scene.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
Back at the fire station, no one – including the chief – was able to hold back their tears when they spoke of her, WPVI reported.
"Just a beautiful person, a smile that could light up a room. Great individual," Chief Davenport said.
He described her as a “light in the sky,” and said she wasn’t one to back away from the most grueling aspects of the job, The Press of Atlantic City reported.
“She worked very hard,” the chief said. “Anything she could do, she would, [and] I could trust that.”
"It's going to be hard, but we know she's watching us and will be in whatever calls we go on," MVFC Firefighter Eriana Davenport told WPVI.
She said the department will also rally around the fallen firefighter’s loved ones in the wake of their loss.
“This isn’t just a fire company. This is one big family,” Firefighter Davenport said. "We just want to let them know we're here for them. They're family, we're all family.”
Firefighter Dempsey’s boyfriend, Andy Wilbert, told WPHT he last heard from her at approximately 1 a.m.
“She texted me saying that she loved me, and that she’s so appreciative that I was in her life,” Wilbert recounted, holding back tears. “And then she wished me a Merry Christmas.”
Firefighter Dempsey loved hearing the emergency sirens and suiting up to respond to help someone in need, her coworkers told WPVI.
She had been with the department for three years, and aspired to be a law enforcement officer, Chief Davenport explained.
This past summer, she graduated from the police academy, he said.
“To our brothers and sisters at Mizpah Volunteer Fire Company 18-2 we stand with you and we mourn with you during this dark hour,” Mays Landing Fire Department said in a Facebook post. “Natalie Dempsey was a vibrant young firefighter who always had a smile on her face, and she will be greatly missed.”
“Please join us in extending our thoughts and prayers to Ms. Dempsey's family as well as to her firehouse family during this tough time,” the agency wrote. “Natalie Dempsey, thank you for your service; we'll take it from here.”