ALBANY, Ore. — It was a day of mourning and shock for friends and family members of a fallen firefighter from Albany.
The Josephine County Sheriff’s Office says 19-year-old Jesse Trader of Albany was driving a water tender truck on Tuesday morning while helping fight the Big Windy Complex Fire near Grants Pass. Deputies say the truck hit an embankment and rolled, killing Trader. Several agencies are continuing to investigate the crash.
“When I heard Jesse died, I thought it was a joke,” said Trader’s friend Cory James. “I didn’t believe it. I was trembling, I went numb, and I couldn’t breathe. Someone had to give me an inhaler because it was just too real. Too real it was just unreal.”
James says Trader was his best friend.
“He had a lot of best friends,” James said. “But personally, he was mine. He saved my life. I was going to commit suicide one day. He saw in me something was wrong, so he took me to my mom. Out of all the people I saw that day, he was the only one who could see.”
Trader’s parents say they have family in Grants Pass, and as soon as their son heard of the wildfires in the area, he wanted to help.
“Firefighters save lives,” James said. “And that’s what he wanted to do. It was his passion.”
Gigi Trader, Jesse’s mother, says he got his commercial license to drive water trucks.
“I thought he had a safe job,” she said. “I wasn’t even worried about him when he left.”
Trader spent the last year at Western Oregon University to play baseball, but he was transferring to Chemeketa Community College for its firefighting and paramedic program.
“The letter arrived in the mail and he was just so nervous to open it,” said Ted Trader, Jesse’s father.
“We sat there staring at it on the table. Is it yes or no?” Gigi Trader added.
Trader only recently found out that he had been accepted to the program.
“And when we opened it up, he was just like – Yes! I got it!” said Ted Trader.
Gigi Trader says her son was adventurous. His Christian faith was important to him, but more than anything, he wanted to make a difference.
She says he wanted to go to Grants Pass, and as all firefighters do, he risked his life.
“I don’t think he shouldn’t have gone,” she said. “He wanted to go. He wanted to help people. He had a heart of gold.”
The Traders and Jesse’s friends are having a difficult time coping. James says personally, praying is helping him through.
“If I could say anything to him, I’d say I love him and I miss him,” James said.