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Justin C. Junk

Justin Junk

WATERLOO — For the second time in a few short months, Waterloo firefighters are mourning the death of one of their own.

Justin Charles Junk, a fire engineer and 10-year veteran of Waterloo Fire Rescue, died Tuesday, succumbing to cancer. He was 34 and leaves behind a wife and four children.

His death comes less than two months after Firefighter Greg Freshwater, 27, was struck by a car and killed while jogging off duty in late August.

Relatives said Junk, a resident of Independence, was following a family tradition when he joined the fire service. His father, Joe Junk, is an engineer at Waterloo Fire Rescue’s Station No. 4, and his uncle, Mike Junk, had been a captain and battalion chief with the department before retiring recently.

“When Justin got out of high school, he thought it was a pretty good deal, too,” Mike Junk said.

Justin Junk obtained a degree in fire science from Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids before moving on to earn an agriculture studies degree from Iowa State University in Ames.

He served the Independence Fire Department in 2003 and 2004 before he was hired by Waterloo Fire Rescue in August 2007. He was a paramedic-engineer at Station No. 5 on Nevada Street.

“He just seemed to be a magnet for bad calls. In his first few years on the department, he probably had more bad calls than a lot of guys did in 30 years,” said Mike Junk.

For firefighters, a bad call is a fire or accident that involves serious injury or death, and Mike Junk remembered a house fire years ago where a child was trapped and died.

“Justin was the one who found the little guy in the fire and carried him out,” Mike Junk said.

Justin Junk and his father recently worked on a grant to obtain a rescue tube, equipment used to free people trapped in grain bins, said Fire Chief Pat Treloar. The department is slated to receive the equipment this month.

Away from the station, Justin Junk enjoyed being with his family and continued to be involved in farming. He was an Iowa State University livestock judge and showed cattle and sheep.

In recent years, Justin Junk had been afflicted with benign tumors and had undergone numerous operations and treatments.

Junk’s medical condition wasn’t a secret, and Treloar said he was impressed how the firefighter was able to push on with his work.

“He had a lot of medical challenges, and we all knew that, but he came to work with a great attitude. He was courageous, and we could all learn something from him. A lot of days he was at work, I’m sure most of us wouldn’t have been at work. We could see he was struggling, but he was still here and still doing his job.”

Over the summer, Justin Junk underwent radiation treatments, the uncle said. He said Justin Junk was feeling better and had regained some weight.

“He looked like a million bucks,” Mike Junk said.

But three or four weeks ago, it was like someone pulled the rug out from under him, Mike Junk said. Justin Junk usually wasn’t one to talk about how he was feeling or to complain, but this time he confided in his uncle something wasn’t right and he was going to the hospital.

Sometime later, he collapsed at work, and doctors found internal bleeding from a tumor, Mike Junk said. After a trip to the Mayo Clinic, Justin Junk returned to Waterloo under hospice care and died about a week later.

Waterloo firefighters are coming together to help. Services are slated for Monday at St. John’s Catholic Church in Independence.

“We are all affected, but some more than others. The department’s focus is going to be on the Junks until Justin is laid to rest, and then we will work on making sure we are all OK,” Treloar said. “I think, as a family we are doing well. We come together just like any other family when there is a tragedy.”


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