First responders from across Berks escorted firefighter and EMT Jeremy Emerich in a procession from Lehigh Valley Hospital on May 21.
Jeremy, a resident of Fleetwood, died from COVID-19 that morning after spending four weeks in the hospital. He was 40.
Emergency vehicles lined the roads as Jeremy’s body was escorted from the hospital in Lehigh County to Bean Funeral Home in Sinking Spring, Berks County. Fleetwood and Blandon fire trucks created an arch across Route 222 to pay tribute. Lehigh Valley Hospital’s MedEvac helicopter also flew overhead.
Jeremy joined Fleetwood Volunteer Fire Company in January of 2004. He was a certified firefighter and EMT. He was also a sergeant with the Exeter Township Fire Department and a critical care EMT with Lehigh Valley Health Network.
“Jeremy worked a lot but responded to calls when he could. He also helped at a lot of our fundraisers after work,” said Fleetwood Fire Chief John Manmiller.
Exeter Fire Department Sgt. Andy Gudinas was Jeremy’s partner for eight years and was shocked that his best friend passed away.
“He’s been there so many times for me,” Gudinas said. “I lost a partner and a best friend.”
In the fire service, firefighters have each other's backs and if Jeremy was around, you knew you were safe, Gudinas said.
“He saved (me) more than enough times in the fire service,” Gudinas said. “I never thought this would happen.”
Gudinas said he and Jeremy knew the risks of being first responders on the front lines of a pandemic, but it’s still a shock to know his friend is gone.
“He was very selfless,” Gudinas said. “He always put everyone else ahead of him. Even when he was starting to feel ill, he was worried about other people more than himself.”
“This is going to be a long road for us,” Gudinas said. “You can’t replace someone like that.”
Jeremy dedicated his life to helping other people.
“That’s who he was,” said his sister, Melanie Emerich. “If Jeremy could help somebody, that’s what he did.”
Melanie said her brother was healthy but had high blood pressure and allergies.
“He spent his whole life saving everybody. That’s what he wanted to do, and he couldn’t save himself this time.”
Losing someone to the disease is a tragedy in itself, but for the Emerich family it's the second tragedy during the pandemic.
Liobrio "Libo" Lara, the youngest brother to Melanie and Jeremy, passed away from COVID-19 in April, days after showing symptoms of being infected with the coronavirus. He was 30.
“What are the odds that not just one, but both my brothers got it, and it killed not just one, but both my brothers,” Melanie said.
Melanie knows her mother, Sally, is strong but wonders how she is able to cope with the deaths.
“I can’t imagine having to bury one of my children, but two of them so close together,” Melanie said. “We didn’t even get time grieve over Libo before this happened.”
Despite dealing with the reality of having to bury two sons, Melanie said Sally is doing well.
“My mom is always so kind and says ‘everything is going to be OK,’” Melanie said. “With Libo she said ‘God needed him. God had a plan for him so he had to go home.’”
Jeremy got his passion for the fire service from his father, Chester, who was a volunteer firefighter in the Reading area for almost 40 years, Melanie said.
Melanie was surprised by the support she and her family received in the few short hours after Jeremy passed away. Fire departments and old Army friends reached out to see what they could do.