COMSTOCK TOWNSHIP, Mich (WOOD) — Comstock Township Fire Chief Edward Switalski was hit and killed by a passing vehicle while responding to an “unknown accident” on eastbound I-94, Kalamazoo County authorities say.
Oshtemo Township Fire Department Chief Mark Barnes said it all started with the Comstock Township Department of Fire & Rescue looking for two crashes on eastbound I-94 near mile marker 81 around 10:30 p.m., after heavy rains. When they arrived, they found an empty vehicle and no injuries to report.
The Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office said as fire crews were getting ready to leave the scene, a passing vehicle lost control and hit Switalski, who was standing near the rear of his rescue vehicle.
Crews at the scene tried to revive Switalski, but were unsuccessful. He died at the scene.
The driver of the at-fault vehicle was taken to Borgess Methodist Hospital with injuries from the crash. The Kalamazoo County undersheriff said the driver is a man from the Battle Creek area. He was still in the hospital as of 8:45 a.m.
The incident remains under investigation, but Barnes says it should serve as a warning to other drivers.
“When we’re out on these highways, the interstates and even the county roads, we’re treating people that are already injured. Please, be cautious. There’s already one injury, you don’t want to become injured either by not paying attention,” said Barnes.
After serving more 30 years at Pleasantview Fire District in Illinois, Switalski moved to West Michigan in 2013 to be closer to his daughters, who were attending Western Michigan University.
He was sworn in on July 1, 2013, replacing Walter Culver, the fire chief who had been with the department for more than 40 years.
“Comstock firefighters are getting whatever time they need away to grieve over what happened,” Culver said. “And it’s going to be tough, but they’ll get through it, because they’ll do it in his honor. That’s what he would have wanted as a fire chief.”
“He was extremely social. You’ll find him all over his Facebook page far more than most of us are in my age bracket. Absolute wonderful guy. He’s a firefighter’s firefighter. Really, as he came out of Illinois, he was highly active in regional events there, he brought some of those talents to us here in Kalamazoo County,” said Barnes.
The flag outside the Comstock Township Department of Fire & Rescue was at half staff Thursday morning in honor of its chief.
The impact of his death sent ripples across the Kalamazoo community.
“We’re a fairly close-knit family. We train together, we cover each other’s stations. And that’s all taking place right now. Ed was a friend of mine; Ed and Holly have been to my home before. We’re all friends with each other,” said Barnes.
Some people just knew the chief as “Ed.”
“Being with Ed makes you want to do better in a way,” said Adrian Shier, who owns Fit Body Boot Camp in Kalamazoo, where Switalski had worked out in the last several months. “He’s very inspiring, very motivating, and he doesn’t force it on anybody it’s just who he is, that’s who is character is.”
Messages of sympathy filtered in fast Thursday morning.
“The Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department wishes to extend their sincere condolences to the Switalski family and the Comstock Fire department in their tragic loss,” the sheriff’s office said in its news release.
They weren’t alone.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to family, friends and fellow fire fighters (sic) of Comstock Fire Chief Ed Switalski,” read a post on Downtown Kalamazoo Cops’ Facebook page.
The public visitation will be held on Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Langeland Family Funeral Homes, located at 3926 S. 9th Street in Oshtemo Township.
The procession will start at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday from Langeland Funeral to Wings Event Center. Doors open at 10 a.m. on Wednesday to the Wings Event Center. The funeral services will start around noon and will air live on WXSP and on woodtv.com.
The Comstock Township office will be closed from noon to 5 p.m. on Tuesday and all day Wednesday so staff members can attend funeral services.
Anyone with information about the crash is encouraged to contact the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office at 269.383.8748 or Silent Observer at 269.343.2100.
–24 Hour News 8’s Brady Gillum contributed to this report.