James Reardon’s ‘line of duty’ death caused by heart attack
By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer[email protected]
James Reardon died as he lived — with a camera in his hand, giving his time to help others.
Saturday, Aug. 4, Reardon, a Pierz resident, and Fire Academy of North Dakota Chief Darrell Graf were diving in Lake Seven in Otter Tail County when Reardon suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. No water was found in his lungs, which means death was instantaneous.
Graf, a close family friend of the Reardons, and Reardon had met in Perham that morning and stopped for a sandwich in town. “It was a wonderful day to be with a friend, laughing and talking,” said Graf.
Their first dive was planned for Lake Seven, between Frazee and Vergas. They were doing a pre-drill survey of the lake for the Fire Academy. Reardon took a few photos of Graf near the bottom, but the next time Graf looked up he couldn’t see Reardon.
“I came up to look for his bubbles, but the lake surface was ripply and I couldn’t find any,” Graf said.
Graf swam back to shore to the public access dock and scanned the entire lake surface intently for 10-15 minutes. He was growing more concerned and went to his pickup for binoculars.
At about that time, Eric and Katie Enslin drove up to launch a boat. When Graf shared his concerns, Eric volunteered to take him out in the boat.
“I left my scuba gear on the dock and we went out on the lake to look. It was when we were coming back in that I saw Jim about 30 feet from the dock, face up in the water,” said Graf. “It was immediately obvious that he was gone.”
Graf and Eric Enslin pulled Reardon to shore. Graf found that Reardon’s buoyancy compensator had not been activated, but was working perfectly. Reardon’s mask was intact and perfectly installed.
“It appeared that this was a medical situation. I knew he’d been under about 40 minutes at this time,” Graf said. “It wasn’t a drowning.”
The Fire Academy of North Dakota is a 501 (c) 3 team of volunteers who fight fires and also instruct smaller departments. They have one aerial truck and three fire engines and have helped fight fires all over North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.
“We conduct large mutual-aid drills, where we bring in 10 – 20 neighboring fire departments to get rid of a structure,” Graf said.
Twenty team members are marine-trained to fight ship fires at sea. As partners of T and T Bisso of Houston, Texas, they go anywhere, any time. They have fought fires from Alaska to Florida, regularly training on an ore ship at Superior, Wis.
The team has eight members who are scuba-trained for underwater rescues. The scuba-diving drill which he and Reardon were planning has been scrapped due to the tragedy.
Reardon first trained with the team in the late 1980s when he and Graf both lived in Fargo, N.D. Reardon joined the team again in April 2010 when he had more time available, this time as a photographer and videographer. He attended many drills.
“If we needed a hand with anything he’d help, because he was trained,” said Graf. “The Fire Academy is so grateful for his help; we’ve done everything we can.”
Reardon’s casket was draped with a United States flag and carried his helmet.
Flags at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial on the campus of the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland, were flown at half staff Monday, Aug. 6, in Reardon’s honor.
“My daughter is the same age as his daughters and it was always the best of times when we got together — lots of laughing,” said Graf. “He was a character with a bubbly personality, a sharp guy — a nice guy. He made friends instantly. He was very family-oriented, a great father and husband and a great friend. He will be deeply missed.”
Reardon leaves behind his wife, Michelle, son, Cole and daughters, Taylor, Paige and Clare.
Those wishing to contribute to a memorial fund that benefits Reardon’s family can send donations to: Jim Reardon Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 5502, Bismarck, ND 59506-5502.