STANHOPE — Chief Mitch Ellicott of the Stanhope Fire Company said he can still remember Ed Frenenski Jr. tagging along with his dad to the firehouse when the elder Frenenski was chief.

Having watched the boy grow into a man and a valuable member of the department himself, Ellicott said, made the sudden death of the 31-year-old Frenenski during a training on Monday that much harder for the department and the community.

Ellicott said the department was training at the Sussex County Public Safety Training Facility on Monday night doing an auto extrication drill when things went wrong very quickly. Watching from the sidelines, Ellicott said, he was alerted by a lieutenant that there was a problem with one of the members, later identified as Frenenski.

As Frenenski started to collapse, Ellicott said, other firefighters around him were able to catch him and lower him slowly to the ground. First aid was provided by an assistant chief who is also an EMT, as well as by other first-responders who were also training at the facility that night. Ellicott said paramedics arrived quickly and took Frenenski to the hospital, but were unable to revive him.

Frenenski, known affectionately as "Bear," first joined the department in 2005 and has been an active member ever since.

"His life and everything he loved was wrapped around the fire department, the Yankees, and playing darts on Friday night with the guys down in our lounge," he said. "He made the majority of fires and he would always make the first truck and be the one ready to go into action."

Ellicott said for Frenenski, being part of the fire department and serving the town he grew up in "was like his life."

Since his death, Ellicott said, the department has been busy helping with arrangements, while also being there for the family that he said has been in the town "forever." He also said his department has gotten a tremendous amount of help from other departments since Frenenski's death, which has meant a lot to everyone.

"We're like a family," he said. "We squabble amongst each other, and bust each other's chops, but when it comes time to getting down and dirty and doing the job everybody sticks together," he said.

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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com