Conscientious. Humble. Will be a great leader.
These are some of the words colleagues used to describe Dane Smothers Jr., the 28-year-old D.C. firefighter who was severely injured the night of Aug. 3 while responding to his first fire. Officials said he stepped out of Engine 3 and was hit by a firetruck at a rowhouse blaze on Capitol Hill.
“We all have to exhibit a certain amount of humility,” said Lt. Courtney X. Bass, one of Smothers’s instructors at the training academy from which the recruit had graduated in April. “Him being humble, he listened. He understood what was expected of him.”
Bass and several others who worked with Smothers during his brief stay at Engine 3 on New Jersey Avenue NW, near Union Station, spoke publicly for the first time Thursday. Their words were brief, their demeanor somber, their hopes for a recovery high. They want him back as one of what they call the “protectors of Capitol Hill.”
Smothers remains in critical condition at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Officials said he had already undergone three surgeries and was going through his fourth on Thursday. He suffered traumatic injuries to his upper body.
Authorities declined to discuss the investigation into the accident.
The firefighter’s family has not spoken publicly. Fire officials who have talked with them describe them as private and taken aback by the publicity and the outpouring of support. Smothers has two uncles in the department, one of whom also responded to the Aug. 3 fire.
Smothers grew up in Southeast Washington and worked as a library aide in Anacostia before becoming a firefighter. He is engaged to be married. His colleagues said he told them he always wanted to be a firefighter. Lt. Keishea Jackson, an instructor at the academy, said his parents told her about how excited he had been about taking his entrance exam.
Sgt. David Youngling, another instructor, said: “The one thing Dane didn’t want to do was to stand out. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself. He liked to come to work and do his job.”
In one training exercise, each cadet had to play the role of a supervisor and lead classmates in a morning physical fitness drill. Youngling said the quiet Smothers whispered his commands.
Bass said the quiet demeanor made Smothers a good listener and would eventually “make him a great leader.” He said that one day at the academy, “Dane came up to me and pulled me aside. He said, ‘Lieutenant Bass, I want to go to Engine 3.’ I said, ‘You really want to do this? That’s one of the busiest companies in the city.’ ”
Bass added, “Those are the type of employees we need on this job.”