Community mourns loss of beloved Comstock fire chief killed while on duty

Posted at 6:42 PM, Jun 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-15 19:12:17-04

COMSTOCK TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Mark Barnes misses his friend Ed. They’d been friends ever since Ed moved to Comstock five years ago from Pleasantview, Ill where he served as battalion chief. Here he took on a greater role as fire chief, just like Barnes in Oshtemo.

“Ed was my friend,” said Barnes fighting back tears. “There's not a lot of chiefs in the county who can be full-time. We’re blessed to be able to do that.”

Comstock Township Chief Ed Switalski died Wednesdaynight after he was struck and killed by a vehicle, Barnes said. He and a few other fire fighters were dispatched to a crash on I-94. He was putting his fire gear into his command vehicle when a car came barreling toward him.

“Another car lost control, slid around the engine that was blocking the road and then hit him in the back of his car,” said Barnes, president of the Kalamazoo County Fire Chief Association.

According to a release from the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office, first responders rushed to Switalski and tried resuscitating him. But their efforts were unsuccessful. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

“His family and his daughters are suddenly in a position of having to make decisions they could never estimate of coming,” said Barnes.

They’re hurting, Barnes said, along with the Comstock Fire Department. The Sheriff’s Office brought in their Critical Incidence Stress Debriefing Team Wednesday night and consoled about 50 people coping with the news of Switalski’s loss. Some of them decided to take a few days off to cope alone.

“The Comstock firefighters will want to come back to work in time but they need some healing,” said Barnes. “They’ll come back in small groups. One and two and three at a time when they feel appropriate.”

Barnes said that other fire stations from around the county will back-fill while their crew members are away. He said he’s been receiving calls from departments all over the state, asking about how they can help during this difficult time. He’s grateful for all of it. However it doesn’t ease the pain of losing his friend.

“Ed and I have had these conversations ‘What are we going to do if this happens?’"said Barnes. "We’ve worked through some of those things but I expected him to be here to help me.”