Family reflects on life of Augusta firefighter who drowned at Clarks Hill Lake

Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 12:52 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Family of the CSRA’s latest drowning victim is speaking out about losing their loved one.

Lt. Ralph Jenkins was a member of the Augusta Fire Department where he served for 40 years. The family says when he wasn’t putting out flames, he was out enjoying the water.

“He had a routine, loved fishing, had just gone earlier that week,” said his wife, Valarie Jenkins.

His wife affectionately refers to his boat as “his baby,” and other family members say it’s been a passion of his for quite some time.

“Fishing and boating is something he’s always done since he was younger, and it was just something that stuck with him,” said his daughter, Jennifer Kennedy.

But when he didn’t come home on Friday, something was off.

“For me to not see him around seven o’clock because he’s normally home around five — I knew,” said his wife.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office says Lt. Jenkins drowned trying to save a woman in the water. Now, there’s an entire fire department and a family who will have to go on without him.

“Augusta without my dad would be a city that has lost a hero,” said Kennedy.

The deaths of five people in local waters are shining a light on the need for water safety.

Family and friends tell us Lt. Jenkins was known for being a leader, mentor, and the life of the party.

“Every man has his flaws, but he’s the model man. In every way, he’s the man that’s going to hold the household down,” said his grandson, Demond Rogers.

They say they never could have expected him to have issues on the water.

“He was an excellent swimmer, unlike myself,” said Valerie Jenkins. “And so, that’s what disturbs me the most, is that— and I know the dangers of being in the lake and the currents. That’s something that I’m going to have to deal with for the rest of my life.”

But they say they’re working together to get through it all, trying to keep the legacy of their hero alive.

“I’m going to try to do everything possible to keep his legacy, keep going through,” said Rogers.

This marks the second tragedy in the first responder community recently after a Lincoln County EMS worker passed away in a motorcycle accident Thursday.

And as more people are heading to the water this summer, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources also has a campaign with advice for being safe while out on the water. It’s called the SPLASH campaign. It can show you how to make your own water rescue tool kit or even donate a life jacket to be used in the community. You can find more information by clicking here.

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