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Iowa firefighter dies on way home for Christmas

Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa -- An Indianola firefighter died in a crash Monday while traveling home after a 48-hour shift to spend a belated Christmas with his family.

Daniel Nichols, 40, died shortly after 7 a.m. after his car struck a patch of ice just miles from his home. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Nichols was a husband, father of five, full-time fire medic for the Des Moines Fire Department and a volunteer firefighter in Indianola. Not initially scheduled to work the holiday, Nichols had volunteered to work for a colleague in Des Moines to allow him to spend time with family.

"He was excellent. He'd give you the shirt off his back," said Joe Sciarrotta, a friend who was among the last to see Nichols as he relieved him from his shift Monday at Station No. 8 on Des Moines' south side.

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Nichols' wife, Jana, and the children, ages 5 to 20, had been waiting for him to walk in the door when they received the news. By Monday evening, family and friends gathered at an impromptu candlelight vigil at the crash site.

The Indianola and Des Moines fire departments lowered flags to half-staff.

Nichols will be considered "killed in the line of duty" because he died within 48 hours of the end of his shift, said Des Moines Fire Chief Phillip Vorlander. The designation would provide benefits to Nichols' wife and children if it gets federal approval.

"As far as the Des Moines Fire Department is concerned, he will always be considered killed in the line of duty," Vorlander said. "Along with all departments in this country, our motto is 'Everybody goes home,' and Dan didn't make it home."

Nichols was the first Des Moines firefighter deemed killed in the line of duty in more than 35 years. On Feb. 10, 1970, engineer John Leto died in an accident.

Nichols' funeral will be Thursday in Indianola.

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