Fire lieutenant dies in off-duty drowning
Jozsef Papp, The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.
May 24–Lt. Jonathan Guilfoyle would probably still be at the Augusta Fire Department, but he certainly wouldn’t be where he is today without Lt. Ralph Jenkins.
“He is an impactful person. Every day, he made an impact,” Guilfoyle said. “I’ve had the pleasure of being with (Lt. Jenkins) my entire 10 years. Ralph Jenkins has been the ultimate mentor to me.”
Jenkins, 60, drowned at Thurmond Lake over the weekend. Georgia Department of Natural Resources game wardens were called around 5:45 p.m. Friday to the Lake Springs area due to a possible drowning. They determined Jenkins went into the water from a boat and never resurfaced.
Georgia DNR crews searched the area until 11 p.m. using sonar equipment and continued the search around 6:30 a.m. Saturday. Jenkins was located with a scan sonar at 9:39 a.m. and his body was recovered by Columbia County divers in 34 feet of water a short time later.
The department confirmed Jenkins as the drowning victim.
“On behalf of the entire Augusta firefighting community, I am disheartened to report this crushing loss of one of our own,” said Interim Fire Chief Shaw Williams Jr. “Lt. Jenkins came from a firefighting family, was known in the department as a person who could be counted on for a good laugh, and served the people of Augusta, Georgia, for 40 years.”
The details regarding what resulted in the drowning are being investigated. The body was turned over to the Columbia County coroner.
Jenkins has been working as a firefighter in Richmond County since 1981. He began as a firefighter with the county before joining the Augusta Fire Department after consolidation.
“Ralph is a leader, a genuine, kind person. He is the life of the party. When you meet him once, it’s like knowing him your entire life,” Guilfoyle said. “He has the ultimate people skills, he treats everyone like family.”
Lt. Nicholas Costello worked under Jenkins for 10 years at Fire Station No. 2, which was located on Walton Way before being moved to Telfair Street. Costello said they became friends, would go out on weekends and would call each other weekly.
Costello said he had many opportunities to move on and work at other fire stations but he always told Jenkins he wanted to stay and work for him. He said Jenkins has touched every single person in the department in some way and has helped a lot of people.
“I would give back all my rank to go back to have that original No. 2 group,” Costello said. “The whole fire department envied his shift and everyone wanted to work for Ralph Jenkins. There was a long list of people that wanted to work for him.”
“He has touched probably everyone in this department somehow, some way, whether you worked with him, heard stories about him. We are all hurting.”
Although it’s been a difficult couple of days, Costello said Jenkins would want them to move on, do their jobs and keep moving forward.
For Guilfoyle and many in the department, Jenkins was a father figure to them. Guilfoyle said Jenkins took him under his wing when he joined the department at the age of 18.
Jenkins took immense pride in everything he had done throughout his 40-year career, Guilfoyle said. He knows Jenkins’ legacy will never die.
“We are brothers. We are all brothers, we are all family. We all have a relationship with each other that can’t be broken,” he said. “For Ralph Jenkins, that was my father. Everyone knows, me and Ralph, that’s a father-son relationship.”
Costello said it will be hard to replace Jenkins.
“Ralph was just a great standup guy. A heck of a fireman,” he said. “Ralph is irreplaceable. Nobody will ever be able to fill his shoes.”
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