‘Bassfield has lost a fine chief’

Published 1:30 pm Friday, February 24, 2017

Services for Bassfield Volunteer Fire Chief Bill Matthews were held Monday at the Covington-Jefferson Davis Baptist Associational Building. Matthews died on Feb. 14 working a brush fire on Graves Keys Road in Bassfield.

A longtime servant of Jefferson Davis County and Bassfield, Matthews, a retired Marine, was found slumped over in his fire truck on the scene of the fire near New Jerusalem Apostolic Church.

Bassfield Mayor Pat Courtney said fellow firefighter Drew Stephens was manning the hose and called to Matthews to move the truck, but received no response. Stephens pulled Matthews from the truck and began CPR.

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“They got the ambulance there, but it was already too late,” Courtney said.

According to Jefferson Davis County Coroner Jim Slater, the chief died as a result of a massive heart attack and was pronounced dead at approximately 6 p.m. last Tuesday at Jefferson Davis Community Hospital.

Matthews, 71, was known for his love for the fire service, but also love for his community.

“He went to every fire, and he did not get paid,” Courtney said. “There are not many people like him. He worked every day, and did not complain.

Courtney said Matthews’ firefighters looked to him as a role model.

“They have their firefighter family, and they are just crushed. They’re so young, and he was just like a daddy to all of them. He would even go to our local schools and teach them to stop, drop and roll. The schools have called and texted to tell me they have lost a friend. We all have.”

In a small county, the public service community is close-knit. Slater said he still remembers the first time he met Matthews.

“The first time we met, it was very confrontational. Then we became good friends. We found out later we were second cousins,” he said. “Bill had a very sharp wit and I tried to match him. I couldn’t match. He would help anybody, he would listen to your problems, he was just an overall nice guy.”

State Fire Marshal Mike Chaney released the following statement last Wednesday about Matthews’ death: “Yesterday the Mississippi firefighting community lost a valued member with the death of Bassfield Fire Chief Bill Matthews. Chief Matthews died while working a brush/woods fire in Jefferson Davis County.

Being a firefighter is one of the most dangerous professions in this country. Those that choose to serve are selfless individuals dedicated to saving lives and protecting property in their communities. Chief Matthews was just such an individual, honorably serving not only the Bassfield Fire Department and the city of Bassfield, but the state of Mississippi. We salute him.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Chief Matthews and to his fellow firefighters of the Bassfield Fire Department.”

“We as a town are going to miss him so much. He made coffee each morning for the clerks. He had a servant’s heart and a very selfless spirit. I have never known a person like him before. He helped everybody. Everyone around can tell you a Mr. Bill story.”

Fire departments from across the state lined up on Hwy 84 Monday to honor Matthews as he was carried from Lone Star to his final resting place next to his parents at Rosehill Cemetery in Brookhaven.

“A great tribute was given to him today with the firemen statewide that came to honor him, and the firetrucks in the procession, said Mayor Courtney. Bassfield Volunteer Fire Department has lost a fine chief.”