Fire chief dies after fighting house fire, funeral arrangements - - Columbia, South Carolina

Fire chief dies after fighting house fire, funeral arrangements made

Fire Chief Dennis Cauthen Fire Chief Dennis Cauthen

LANCASTER, SC (WBTV) - Funeral arrangements have been announced for a volunteer fire chief who died after fighting a house fire in Lancaster County early Tuesday morning.

Elgin Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dennis Cauthen told firefighters that he felt "heart burn" pains while fighting a house fire early Tuesday morning and later died at the hospital.

According to Lancaster County Fire Marshal Stephen Blackwelder, the 54-year-old Cauthen has more than 31-years of fire service in Lancaster County.

Cauthen's death is considered "in the line of duty" and be will be given full firefighter honors at his funeral, Blackwelder says.

Friends and family will be holding a visitation on Thursday, August 18th from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. at the Lancaster Funeral Home & Crematory Service on North White Street.

Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. on Friday at St. Luke United Methodist Church on Providence Road in Lancaster.  Burial will immediately follow at St. Luke Cemetery.

Blackwelder says the volunteer fire department had just returned from fighting a fire in an old mill house at 937 15th Street in the Gooches area where Chief Cauthen had complained of feeling "heart burn."

Blackwelder says the fire sparked at an abandoned home around 2:45 a.m. Tuesday morning and crews were on scene for nearly three hours. 

Blackwelder says that Chief Cauthen began feeling sick during the fire and the crew stopped at the store to pick up a drink to help ease the pain, after leaving the fire.

Chief Cauthen's pain got worse when the crew got back to the fire station, so fellow firefighters called for paramedics and began to give him medical attention.  Blackwelder says Cauthen was alert and talking before being placed in the ambulance.

He was rushed to Springs Memorial Hospital where he died around 8 a.m.

Fire crews on scene told WBTV that the  heat was so intense, firefighters had to move their trucks further away from the house fire to prevent the trucks from catching fire.  Three volunteer fire departments, including Elgin VFD, were called to fight the blaze.

Blackwelder told WBTV on Tuesday that Chief Cauthen drove the fire truck to the scene and operated the pump while at the fire.

A battalion chief at the scene said in all his years of covering fires, this was the hottest one he's ever been to before. Flames consumed the one-story structure and firefighters were unable to save it.

Firefighters on scene turned their attention to the home next door, which had also caught fire from the heat coming from the original house. The residents of that house were evacuated as firefighters put out the flames.

Fire crews say this was a defensive fire, meaning that no one entered the home.

It took more than a hour before the fire was under control. Firefighters remained at the scene until nearly 6 a.m. on fire watch to ensure the fire didn't spark up again.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Chief Dennis Cauthen is survived by his mother and father.  He and his wife, Teresa, had three children and four grandchildren.

Cauthen well-rooted in the Lancaster community. Cauthen and his wife have owned and operated the Williams Flooring store on Main Street in Lancaster for more than 15 years.

Store manager Joe Brown says Cauthen died doing something he loved.

"[He has] been in the flooring business for a long time, but [he] wanted to be a fireman," Brown told WBTV on Tuesday. 

Brown told WBTV that he couldn't believe it when he got the news about Cauthen.

"He would drop whatever he was doing. If he got a call on his radio, he was gone," Brown said. "He was first responder, he was at every call. It's something he knew he had to do and he did it."

Being a firefighter was something that was in Cauthen's blood, it was part of his family tradition. Chief Cauthen's father was also a past fire chief with the Elgin Volunteer Fire Department.

Blackwelder says Chief Cauthen's body has been taken to Newberry, SC to undergo an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

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