Firefighter Bernie White leaves a lasting legacy
County's longest serving female firefighter dies suddenly
May 13, 2009ALMONT — For 20 years, Bernadette "Bernie" White had answered the fire alarm along with her husband, John, and her fellow Almont Twp. firefighters.
On Tuesday, May 5, the life of Lapeer County's longest serving female firefighter came to an unexpected and tragic end.
Stricken with a severe headache late Monday, Bernie asked John to take her to Lapeer Regional Medical Center, where initial tests proved inconclusive.
It was during another battery of tests that the beloved firefighter and community servant died suddenly from a ruptured aorta.
Bernie's death rocked the Almont community and hundreds turned out to honor her memory during funeral services Saturday at the Almont Fire Hall.
Fire Chief Paul Wayco said the outpouring of support has strengthened Bernie's immediate family and her extended family of firefighters.
"It's been a shock to us all," said Wayco. "She had just been at a fireman's meeting on Monday night and was in good spirits and doing fine. All we can do is pull together as a family and get through this."
The loss is the second for the Almont Fire Dept. in recent months. Longtime Chief Paul Wilcox died in January after an extended illness.
"Bernie is a loss not only to the fire service, but to the whole community," Wayco said. "She was an asset to this department and she will be very much missed."
Born in Detroit in 1947, Bernie graduated from Warren High School, before marrying John White on February 28, 1969.
An active community member, Bernie worked as an EMT with Muir Brothers Ambulance Service for many years. She also served on the Almont Village Council, was a member of the Almont Lioness Club, the Red Hat Society and Sigma Epsilon Chi.
Almont Lioness president Billie Quandt described her fellow club member as dedicated, generous and ready to help.
"She was always there to lend a hand when needed," said Quandt. "She had just been out with us last week for our white cane sales. She didn't drink or smoke and was physically fit and very health conscious. She was an organ donor, so she gave the gift of life to another."
While dedicated to the Lionesses and her many other interests, Bernie was devoted to the Almont Fire Department, where husband John has served 29 years, including a stint as President of the Michigan State Firemen's Association. Following John's lead, Bernie joined the department in 1989, and helped set the standard for other women firefighters to follow.
As a member of the Michigan State Firemen's Association, Bernie responded to hundreds of fires and emergency calls over the years in Almont and Lapeer County. After taking special training through the National Safety Council, she taught Hazardous Materials classes at the Lapeer Firefighters Training Center. She was a certified MIOSA and fire instructor and was the official photographer for the Lapeer County Firemen's Association's Fireplug Magazine.
In addition to her husband, Lt. John White, Bernie leaves behind two grown children, Dawn and Bob; two granddaughters, Hanna and Trinity; her mother Geraldine Perliskey of Sterling Heights; many other relatives and countless friends.
On Monday, Wayco thanked the wives of his fellow Almont firefighters and acknowledged other Lapeer County departments and firefighters who stepped forward to assist or offer emotional support during the funeral and memorial services.
"I praise all of our residents and all the firefighters of Lapeer County for their support," said Wayco. "This was a big loss to our community."
Imlay City Fire Chief Kip Reaves echoed the sentiments of area firefighters, noting that her sudden death was a great loss to the area.
"Not only was Bernie a good fire fighter, her medical training as an EMT was always welcome on car accidents and medical calls," Reaves said. "Berrnie also was contracted to teach Professional Rescuer CPRE/AED to our fire and police departments, Alvin Norlin pool staff, and city employees. Bernie will indeed, be missed."