SAN BENITO, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Across the United States on Sunday, many communities lowered flags to honor and commemorate 148 fallen firefighters, including a San Benito fire chief who died of complications from COVID-19.

The gesture is part of a weekend of celebrations organized by the National Firefighters Memorial Service which ends on Sunday. The 41st annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend was a time of sharing, healing and commemorating each firefighter’s commitment to public service, organizers said.

“This national tribute honors the 148 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2021 and several who died in previous years,” said the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. “Each firefighter’s name will be inscribed on a bronze plaque and will become a permanent feature of the National Memorial in honor of their sacrifices.”

fire chief Danny Dean Watkins67, of the San Benito Fire Department, died Jan. 12, 2021, from complications from COVID-19.

Danny Dean Watkins

Watkins’ widow posted the following comments about her husband and his legacy on the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation website: “My husband has served with courage, commitment and character in the Houston Fire Department during his 34 years distinguished career. A graduate of Houston Community College’s HFD Fire Academy in October 1978, Danny pursued excellence throughout his career in his roles as firefighter, operator engineer, junior captain, senior captain and district manager. After his career at HFD, he had the opportunity to share his passion, experience and love for firefighting with a new family of firefighters as the City of San Benito Fire Chief.

She wrote that in November and December 2020, the coronavirus “began a rampant attack on her department’s firefighters, ultimately leading to my husband’s diagnosis of this illness in the line of duty. COVID overwhelmed his strength, but not his courage. His ‘last call’ came just after midnight on January 12, 2021.”

In Texas, including Watkins, 10 fallen fighters are honored. The other nine are:

  • Captain Bryant Gregory Anderson45, of the City of Converse Fire Department, died August 18, 2020 due to complications from COVID-19.
  • Driver/Engineer Stephen C. Collins49, of the Fort Worth Fire Department, died Oct. 4, 2020, of cancer, deemed by the State of Texas to be in the line of duty.
  • firefighter/paramedic Roger William Dean III31, of the Seguin Fire Department, died April 23, 2021 from complications from COVID-19.
  • Deputy Head Ross D. Estabrooks47, of the Tri-Lakes Volunteer Fire Department, died November 15, 2021. While at the scene of a residential fire, he suffered a heart attack and later died at the hospital.
  • Firefighter James K. Hendricksen43, of the Pipe Creek Volunteer Fire Department, died November 1, 2020 due to complications from COVID-19.
  • Firefighter Danny Ireton61, of the Martin County Volunteer Fire Department, died Aug. 4, 2021. While responding to a car accident, the fire apparatus he was driving struck another vehicle and he is dead.
  • Firefighter Joseph Andrew Mitchell37, of the City of Converse Fire Department, died on December 11, 2020 due to complications from COVID-19.
  • Firefighter/EMT Dylan B. Rodiek35, of the Jollyville Fire Department in Austin, died Aug. 16, 2021. After responding to multiple calls and physical training in a 24-hour shift, he suffered a heart attack and died.
  • Captain Wesley Vandever86, of the Sugar Hill Volunteer Fire Department in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, died Oct. 27, 2021. While responding to a residential fire, he suffered a heart attack and later died in a hospital .

On Sunday morning, the families participated in the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The NFFF presented each family of fallen firefighters with a badge, a rose and an American flag flying above the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial and the United States Capitol.

A complete list of firefighters honored this year is available on the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation website.