Donald W. Tees, 60, of Boothwyn, a retired Crozer-Chester Medical Center paramedic, died at home Friday, June 25, of brain cancer.
Mr. Tees, his family, and former coworkers believed that his cancer was the result of exposure to burning toxic chemicals.
On Feb. 2, 1978, he was among the 200 firefighters, police, and paramedics who answered the call when fire erupted in Chester in what was later discovered to be one of the worst illegal chemical dumps in the nation.
Firefighters told Inquirer reporters in 2000 that the burning chemicals discolored and dissolved their gear, and left them with raw throats, chest pains, burning eyes, and severe skin rashes.
Mr. Tees, who was at the fire for 17 hours, told reporters he treated the firefighters, still dripping chemicals, in the back of a smoke-filled ambulance. He wore no mask or gloves and, with the heater blasting, shed his secondhand firefighter’s coat.
According to an Inquirer investigative series, "Beyond the Flames," by 2000, serious illnesses, including cancer, vascular and neuromuscular disorders, and kidney failure, afflicted at least 45 of the people who had been at the fire at what became known as the Wade dump.
In 1988, Mr. Tees had a brain tumor removed and returned to work. After he had another tumor removed in 1995, followed by radiation, he was prone to seizures and was forced to retire on disability.
"The flames of that fire were still burning inside of him for over 32 years of his life," said his wife, Janice Mielcarek Tees.
Bill Richard, a Crozer-Chester Medical Center paramedic who was also at the fire, contracted Hodgkin’s disease in 1980, but recovered. "Don wanted the public to know how dangerous the fire was and was very grateful for the Inquirer series," said Richard, who trains paramedics and lectures about the Wade dump fire.
Mr. Tees graduated from Chester High School. He completed an automotive-maintenance course at the former Spring Garden Institute and studied scripture at the Word of Life Bible Institute in Pottersville, N.Y. He received his emergency medical technician certification from Delaware County Community College.
While working as a paramedic, he was a part-time driver for Pepsi Bottling Group.
In addition to his wife of 19 years, Mr. Tees is survived by a son, Donald, 17, and daughters Rebecca, 16, and Edna, 12. He was devoted to his children, his wife said, and wrote them goodbye letters.
Friends may call from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, June 29, and from 9 to 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 30, at Ward Funeral Home, 1459 Market St., Linwood. A Funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Holy Saviour Roman Catholic Church, 108 E. Ridge Rd., Linwood. Burial will be in Lawn Croft Cemetery, Linwood.
Donations may be made to Children of Donald W. Tees Fund, Wachovia Bank, 3400 Chichester Ave., Boothwyn, Pa. 19061.