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Warm Springs firefighter who started with first Warm Springs Hotshot crew dies after catching COVID-19

PHOTO COURTESY OF BOB MEDINA
 - Longtime Warm Springs firefighter Luther Clements died Jan. 16 of COVID-19.

Luther Clements, 36-year veteran of fire management on the Warms Springs Indian Reservation, died on Jan. 16 at the age of 56.

At the age of 20, Clements began his career on the first Warm Springs Hotshots crew. In 1984, Warms Springs had the second Native American hotshot crew in the nation. By 1988, he moved up to superintendent of the crew.

"He grew up on a hotshot crew," says career colleague Tony Holliday, now fire prevention officer and fire investigator for the unit. "And that's where you get the most fire experience, working on the most dangerous fires in roadless places where humans haven't been before."

Bob Medina, now dispatcher, first met Clements on the hotshot crew. "He knew how to fight fire. He knew what the fire was going to do. He knew what to do. We always depended on him."

Clements worked his way up in the organization with roles including training, prevention and overseeing fire management and informally as the office sage.

"He was like a brother. He always had good information to pass along. Teacher, friend, even like a father or counselor to other people," says Holliday. "He'd be there to listen to you and give you his input on what he thought."

"He left an impact everywhere he went," says Clements' daughter Denise. "He was really a family man. He loved his job."

Clements had five children: Kayleen, Denise, Jennifer, Justice and Kaiwin. He had five grandchildren. His mother, Janice Clements, is 81 years old.

Clements' family and colleagues were shocked in early December when he went to the hospital with COVID.

PHOTO COURTESY OF KAYLEEN CLEMENTS
 - Luther Clements was a fire crew superintendent at age 24. "He'd never been in the hospital in his whole life," says daughter Kayleen.

"He's been overall healthy and very strong," added sister Denise.

After struggling with coronavirus for about a week with extreme fatigue and difficulty breathing, Clements went to St. Charles Hospital in Bend, then to Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) in Portland.

"We couldn't go in for the first couple of weeks because he had COVID," recalls Kayleen. Even after signs of the virus left his body, the fight against the virus triggered issues with his internal organs. "His lungs and his kidneys began to fail, like a domino effect," says Kayleen.

The sisters say it was bittersweet when nurses allowed them in to see their father. "They only let you in if the family member is really bad."

They never expected their father who fought so bravely against raging fires to succumb to a microscopic virus.

"When he first went in, we thought he'd be back in a day or two," says Kayleen.

"That's the hard part. We worked with him for so long. We all expected him to get back to work," says Holliday. "When we heard the news, it was pretty devastating. We still can't believe it."

Family and friends held a service in his honor Friday, Jan. 22.

There's another way Clements left his mark on the community. He deeply mourned colleagues who died. A few years ago, Clements began an annual memorial to remember past firefighters who died. Now that memorial will include his name.

Luther Clements

June 15, 1964, to January 16, 2021


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