WA firefighter honored for line-of-duty, HIV-related death

WA firefighter honored for line-of-duty, HIV-related death

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by KING 5 News

kgw.com

Posted on October 24, 2012 at 1:10 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 24 at 1:10 PM

He's the first firefighter from South King Fire and Rescue to be honored for dying in the line of duty. But Doug Waller is also one of the first in the country to get this recognition for contracting HIV on the job.

"Every day he went to work I always thought he might not come back," said Sharon Waller, whose husband Doug was a 24-year veteran with South King Fire and Rescue.

But Waller never pictured her husband would die six years after he retired.

"He came to me and said, 'Something is wrong," said Waller. She said he was having trouble speaking and writing.

After running tests, doctors discovered Doug Waller had HIV. He died soon afterward.

His wife remembers that, shortly before he retired, he was exposed when he didn't wear gloves while treating a patient with AIDS. His initial test for HIV had come back negative.

"The only reason we remember the incident is because he made such a big deal about it," said Waller.

The revelation stunned his fellow firefighters.

"It was like 'Oh, jeez!" said Battalion Chief Chuck Kahler. "And then of course the question comes up: When was this contacted?"

"Doug's exposure at the time he had documented, but it sat in a file unknown and kind of forgotten until this came up," said Assistant Chief Gordie Olson.

It took a few years, but Waller's death was eventually accepted as a presumptive illness related to his service.

This week, the Fallen Firefighter Memorial Pike Pole was delivered to South King Fire and Rescue, with Waller's name on a ribbon at the top. His "line of duty death" recognition not only honors him, but allows his family to receive benefits, and his fellow firefighters to feel more secure.

"Should something like this happen to any of us, we feel better that our families will be taken care of," said Kahler.

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