Firefighters from the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District mourned the loss of the department's first paid fire chief Monday.
Clayton Ellis, 69, of St. Helena Island, who served as the department's fire chief for more than 30 years, died after a lengthy bout with cancer, district spokesman Lee Levesque said.
Ellis joined the department in 1970 as its first full-time, paid fire chief and served in that position until retiring in 2005.
Ellis is credited with overseeing the construction of all five of the district's stations on Lady's Island and St. Helena Island, helping the department become one of the first in South Carolina to provide first-responder medical care and hiring more than half of the district's current firefighters.
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Ellis also volunteered with Beaufort County EMS in various capacities for more than 20 years.
Levesque said many in the department remained close with Ellis.
"It's a tough pill to swallow," Levesque said. "Chief Ellis will surely be missed, but his contributions to the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District, Beaufort County, and the surrounding area will live on as a reminder of a great man."
Levesque said funeral arrangements are still pending with Anderson Funeral Home, but Ellis, who was a Navy veteran, likely will be buried later this week in Beaufort National Cemetery. He is survived by his wife, Melinda Ellis.