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Pennsylvania Paramedic Loses Battle with Pancreatic Cancer

HANOVER, Pa. -- Hanover firefighter James Startzel spoke of when he began working at Hanover's Clearview Fire Station, and his introduction to firefighter Frank Duck.

"It was hard to figure him out," Startzel said, noting how Duck would complain about his work and never, ever admit that he could be wrong. But after "confronting his attitude," Startzel said, he learned to understand the man behind the tough exterior, and they became best friends, as close as brothers.

Dozens of those brothers, and sisters, in uniform joined Duck's family and friends to say their final farewell Tuesday to a man that spent 29 years as a firefighter and paramedic in Hanover. Duck, 62, died May 31 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was the husband of Mari McKim Duck.

"He loved the fire department almost as much as he loved his family," Hanover Fire Capt. Joseph Myers Sr. said. "He's going to be greatly missed."

They spoke of a man who had a natural talent for carpentry, loved to hunt and watch NASCAR, and whose favorite saying was "yeppie."

A graduate of Hanover High School, Duck worked in the printing and construction field before joining the Hanover Fire Department as a professional firefighter in 1982. Over the years, he served as treasurer of the firefighter's union, chief of Hanover Fire Company No. 1 and was one of the original paramedics for Medic 46.

Startzel described a time early on when the two were assigned to check call boxes in the borough but Duck was reluctant to do it. Startzel said he nagged at Duck until he got up, jumped in the truck and checked all the boxes himself, not saying a word to Startzel when he returned.

"Our next day back, it was like nothing ever happened," Startzel said.

Startzel and others talked about the bond that develops between firefighters, who have to count on each other in emergencies, as well as live and eat together.

"It's not just a co-worker. You become more than friends, you become family," he explained. "We became very close family. Anything that needed to be done he was there."

That dedication extended to Hanover Foursquare Church, when the congregation needed help building an addition several years ago.

Foursquare pastor Kevin Orewiler said Duck spent "hours and hours and hours" working on the Wilson Avenue church, volunteering his free time and sharing his knowledge.

"He was a very patient teacher," said Orewiler, adding that Duck was just shy of being a perfectionist. "He left us a beautiful church."

Startzel said he could cheer Duck up by just giving him a piece of wood and letting him smell it.

"It was like his drug," he said, pointing out that Duck turned his mother's house into a "masterpiece."

"He loved to make things," he said. "He was absolutely fantastic at what he did."

On one occasion, Duck showed up at 7 a.m. - a full hour early - to begin a construction project at a friend's house because "there was work to be done," Startzel said.

"He was a very talented man," said Myers, who worked construction jobs on the side with Duck years ago.

Myers said news Duck had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer was shocking.

"He was never sick a day in his life," he said.

Despite the illness, Duck refused to give up and battled until the end, friends said. He formally retired from the department last July.

"We didn't realize how tough he was," Myers said. "He put up a hell of a fight. He just got too tired to fight."

Orewiler said the time between Duck's diagnosis and his death provided him an opportunity to set things right, embrace Jesus and admit he had even been wrong on occasion.

"Frank understood the nature of his diagnosis," Orewiler said. "He had made his peace with God."

Firefighters in their dress blues and caps and medics in white shirts and blue pants stood at attention as Duck's casket was solemnly placed on the back of engine 46-1 for one last ride. Four of his colleagues rode on the rear of the engine truck, one white-gloved hand behind each of their backs.

The funeral procession of fire trucks, rescue vehicles, ambulances and police cars snaked its way through town, traveling past the Wirt Park Fire Station, where firefighters rung the bell out front in tribute to their comrade. Then under the archway created by two ladder trucks at the entrance to Rest Haven Cemetery.

Earlier, Startzel noted that Duck passed away last week at just about the time of day he would typically be starting his firefighter shift.

"We were blessed to have him as our guardian angel," he said. "You (Duck) can ride with us anytime we work."


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