Chief Clarence Edward Wilburn II, a longtime Firefighter and Paramedic who responded to Ground Zero and served as a first responder in the wake of 9/11, died Wednesday in Hospice of Northwest Ohio in South Toledo. He was 58. He had pulmonary fibrosis, thought to be a result of breathing the dust, smoke, and ash at Ground Zero.
As a member of the Toledo Area Disaster Medical Assistance Team, Wilburn responded to humanitarian crises and natural disasters across the globe. He provided medical care to victims of Hurricane Katrina and disaster relief in Guam, and answered the call to service during many other catastrophes. But he was most proud of his service in the aftermath of 9/11.
After three weeks at Ground Zero, Wilburn returned home to give presentations across the area on his experiences in New York.
“My brother lived and died the medical field and the fire field,” his brother said. “The worse the patient, the better and more comfortable he was. He just had a knack for it … and he’s helped thousands of people, literally around the world.”
Mr. Wilburn was born Feb. 27, 1959, in Oregon (Ohio) to Clarence Wilburn, a fire chief and Ohio Department of Transportation worker, and Lucille Wilburn, a Holiday Inn waitress. Growing up in Elmore, Ohio, Mr. Wilburn spent much of his time outdoors, where he loved to hunt and play baseball.
Even as a child, Mr. Wilburn aspired to be a fire chief, like his father, said his younger sister, Rebecca Wilburn. She remembers him biking around the neighborhood in a red helmet pretending to be a fireman.
“We were explorers before we were old enough to be on the fire department,” his brother said. “I guess you could say it was in the blood.”
After graduating from Woodmore High School in 1977, he worked for a number of private ambulance companies before obtaining his paramedic license. He settled at Mobile Medic, where he was a paramedic for 29 years.
“He’s done everything from delivering babies to [dealing with] decapitations at automobile accidents,” his brother said. “He’s done it all.”
Mr. Wilburn also served as Assistant Fire Chief of the Lake Township Fire Department and a Millbury Village Councilman.
On the Disaster Medical Assistance Team, he was known as an “energetic presence,” said John Woycitzky, a fellow team member who knew Mr. Wilburn since they were children.
“He was a lot of fun to be around,” Mr. Woycitzky said. “When we would deploy he would have a lot of energy. He always showed up ready to work.”
In his free time, Mr. Wilburn enjoyed helping out at fire department fund-raisers, playing cards, and visiting the Hollywood Casino with his friends.
Surviving are his wife Debra, whom he married in 1983; daughter, Mandy Johnson; son, Adam; sisters, Sharon Wepler, Linda Schlipf, Cheryl Harris, Terry Floro, and Rebecca Wilburn; brother, Jim Wilburn; and four grandchildren. Services were done today.
The family suggests memorial tributes to Hospice of Northwest Ohio, the Harris-Elmore Fire Department, or the Lake Township Fire Department.