Paula Mitchell

Paula Mitchell

TILLSON–William Miller is trying to keep it together for his guys, but it’s been a rough two days.

The chief of the Tillson Volunteer Fire Department is himself in mourning over the loss of one of his men and the captain of his team, Justin Scharschu.

The 28-year-old died early on Monday morning when his truck encountered a tree on state Route 32 just north of Dewitt Mills Road.

He was on his way to work at Precision Concrete Structures in West Hurley, where he was a foreman.

As soon as Miller heard about the accident, he headed to the crash site with Assistant Chief Brian Conner to keep watch over him until he was extricated from the vehicle and the coroner arrived.

Scharschu was pronounced dead at the scene.

On Tuesday afternoon, several department members had gathered at the fire station at 5 Tillson Road to comfort each other and recall their fun-loving, hard-working “brother.”

“Words can’t explain him. Justin was one in a million,” Miller said. “He was definitely fun to be around. He was the life of the party–always doing crazy stuff.”

Justin Scharschu’s helmet laid on a firetruck outside the Tillson Volunteer Fire Department. Photo by Paula Mitchell.

Scharschu, whose father is a life member of the Tillson department and brother a relatively new member, had a passion for fire service, Miller said.

He joined in October 2010 and spent three years as a firefighter, two as lieutenant and two as captain.

“Firefighting is either in you or it’s not in you. There’s no other way to explain it, and it was in him 100 percent,” the chief said.

“If he wasn’t with his family, he was with this family. He was a great firefighter. He was a great person. He was a great friend.”

Conner, who had known Scharschu his whole life, said even though he did not die in the line of duty, everyone who knew him considers him a hero.

“Monday was 9/11. It was a day of heroes. Justin died a hero. Justin died on the day of heroes. We’ll never forget 9/11, and we’ll never forget 9/11 2017,” he said.

Scharschu’s boots and bunker gear outside the Tillson Volunteer Fire Department on Tuesday. Photo by Paula Mitchell.

“Every single year, our department goes to Binghamton and we participate in a 9/11 memorial stair climb at the state building, and Justin was there every single year. He took it all the way to the top. He finished the climb and is up there with the other 343 (firefighters who died on 9/11).

According to the preliminary report, Scharschu was traveling north on state Route 32 in a 2015 Ford F350 just after 6 a.m. when the vehicle encountered a tree.

Miller called it a freak accident and said the tree tumbled onto his traveling vehicle.

“He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the chief added.

The Ulster County Sheriff’s Office did not confirm that detail.

In a press release issued Monday afternoon, the sheriff’s office said Scharschu’s vehicle “struck or was struck by a tree, which fell into the roadway.”

A call to the sheriff’s office on Tuesday was not returned.

After encountering the tree, Scharschu’s truck then veered off the road and came to a rest in a wooded area east of the shoulder of Route 32, the sheriff’s office said.

State Route 32 was closed from 7 a.m. until 12:54 p.m. as a crash reconstruction team investigated.

Being there for each other and feeling the support of the community have helped the members of the Tillson Volunteer Fire Department, Miller said.

They, in turn, have taken care of Scharschu’s family, providing meals on Monday and for the rest of the week.

The funeral will be held at the George J. Moylan Funeral Home, 2053 state Route 32 in Rosendale on Friday at 11 a.m. Interment will be in Rosendale Plains Cemetery.

Calling hours at the funeral home will be on Thursday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Miller said he is expecting that to be a rough day for everyone who knew Scharschu.

“We’ve been just trying to be here for each other. It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do in my career. I can’t even find the words for it,” Miller said.

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