VIRGINIA CITY -- The weekend drowning death of a volunteer Storey County firefighter has shocked the small firefighting community which now wants to reach out to his widow and their unborn son, said the Virginia City volunteer fire chief.
Mike Ellis, 21, a Dayton High graduate, drowned Sunday at Lake Lahontan while celebrating his wife, Louisa's, graduation from Virginia City High School.
A trust fund has been established by the Storey County Fire Department through Bank of America to help Louisa Ellis, who is also a volunteer firefighter, offset the costs of burial and the loss of income, said Virginia City Volunteer Fire Chief Joe Curtis.
Ellis was preparing for big changes in his life with the August due date of the couple's son, Michael, and his recent completion of emergency medical technician training, father-in-law Joseph Grant said.
"He was absolutely the most wonderful kid in the world," Grant, also a volunteer firefighter in Storey County, said Tuesday from his Dayton home.
Married only six months, Grant said, Ellis and Louisa, 18, were thrilled with the impending birth of their first child. "He absolutely adored (Louisa) and couldn't wait to have his own family."
Highly motivated and dedicated, Ellis was always willing to pitch in, Curtis said.
"During the severe 2002 wildland fire season, Mike responded with the Storey County Fire Department to several out-of-district fires in other states around the West. Wherever there was a special fire assignment, Mike was the first to volunteer," Curtis said.
Grant said his daughter is coping with the help of family.
"It really is awful for her," he said. "It's once in a lifetime you see two kids so close. All he lived for was taking care of her and fighting fire."
Volunteer Fire Chief Ed Millim, under whom Ellis worked at the Six Mile Canyon Station, said Ellis worked full time and took classes to complete his EMT training.
"He was a real good kid. Real enthused about helping in his community. A lot of people don't realize how much time it takes to be a volunteer firefighter," he said.
Bob White, business manager of Kaeio America where Ellis worked, said the young husband had been with the company about a year.
"Everybody liked Mike. He was a good guy," he said. "Everybody is very shocked. We're really sad."
Curtis made a plea to fellow firefighters in the area.
"Individuals or fire departments desiring to make contributions to the fund to assist (Ellis') wife and child may do so by forwarding it to any Bank of America branch," he said.
Authorities hope an autopsy will reveal the cause of the drowning.
According to Lt. Jeff Page with the Lyon County Sheriff's Department, a friend who accompanied Ellis and his wife to the lake swam out to assist him while he clung to a buoy. After communicating with him, she headed back to shore under the impression that he was all right and would swim back behind her, Page said.
By the time she reached land, he had gone under.
Two hours after the first 911 call, divers found his submerged body about 45 feet from the shore.
YOU CAN HELP
The Mike Ellis Memorial Fund
Bank of America
Account No. 0049659414475