Community holds vigil for Suffolk firefighter hospitalized

Published 1:25 pm Friday, October 6, 2023

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Suffolk Fire and Rescue firefighter Hunter Stephens is in need of prayers. The 24-year-old at Station 7 is currently in the Norfolk Sentara Heart Hospital after being rushed to Sentara Obici Hospital for respiratory compromise. After being admitted since Tuesday, Sept. 26, Stephens remains in the intensive care unit for treatment.

Suffolk Fire Department, Norfolk Fire and Rescue, Franklin Fire and Rescue, Carrsville Volunteer Fire Department, and various community members came out to hold a prayer vigil for Stephens and his family on Sunday, Oct. 1, in front of the Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. Suffolk Fire Chief Michael Barakey reflected on his time at the vigil, saying it was “heart-wrenching.”

“We were there because our hearts are bleeding and hurting right now for Hunter and Summer and his family, but to bring everybody together and an opportunity to hold hands and pray for common purpose, common goal, it was quite beautiful,” Barakey said.

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Suffolk Senior Firefighter and Chaplain Joshua Baker, who has served SFD since 2019, also reflected on his time at the vigil.

“We had numerous Hampton Roads cities just showing up, showing their support for their fellow firefighter … It was very good. We had a nice prayer, definitely believe in the power of prayer,” said Baker. “And there was a lot of camaraderie afterward, there was a lot of sticking around, a lot of ‘Hey, what can I do to help? How can I help?’”

Baker provided details on what happened to his fellow firefighter starting with the following Monday night when Stephens was not feeling well.

“His wife said they should probably go up to the ER. At that point, Station 7 was a little bit closer to them than the ER, so they went to Station 7 just to see the medics there. The medics transported him directly from his station to Obici Hospital,” Baker said. “He was at Obici Hospital approximately 30 minutes or so before the doctors decided this isn’t something that we can handle, and they sent him directly over to Norfolk Sentara Heart Hospital where he was admitted into the ICU.”

On full details of Stephens’ diagnosis, Baker said that “at this time, we don’t know.”

“All we know is that he’s been admitted into the heart hospital at the ICU and they are performing tests to see exactly what are the next steps that they need to do to try to get him back to his normal self,” he said.

Despite the sudden shock, Baker said that Stephens is in “very good spirits” while also being awake and alert.

“I speak with him on a daily basis,” he said. “They’re just undergoing a series of tests right now from every different angle just to pinpoint exactly what’s going on so they can see what course of action they need to take to try to reverse whatever is happening.”

A native of Windsor, Stephens serves the Suffolk community as well the Southampton and Franklin communities as a part-time Firefighter/EMS.
He started early in serving the community as he volunteered in both Carrsville and Chuckatuck while he was still 16-years-old. After becoming old enough, he applied to work for SFD and graduated from the academy in 2019. Barakey talked about meeting 20-year-old Stephens as he started his work at Station 6.

“He was full of energy. Very much a contributor from the Day One when he arrived. Loves the fire service, it’s deep in his blood,” Barakey said. “He was assigned to Station 6 out of the academy and not only just loved his work ethic, but I loved who he was … so Hunter as a person is who you want in your house when it’s either or fire or you’re having a medical event, or you want somebody to talk to, that’s who Hunter is.”

Baker expressed how much of a family man his fellow firefighter is, noting that Stephens and his wife Summer are newly married and have a 3-month-old son that is his “everything.” He talked more about the 24-year-old first responder as a person.

“He’s an avid hunter. He’s an outdoorsman, he owns his own landscaping company that he cuts numerous yards around here in the city. He’s the kind of guy that lives for the fire service,” Baker said. “We call it a brotherhood in a sense when you sign into the fire department, you have your family at home and this becomes a family to you too. And he has kind of taken this wholeheartedly. He’s the kind of guy that if you need him, he would show up at any time at any point to help you out.”

On that sense of family that firefighters share, Baker talked about the difficulties that come from Stephens’ absence.

“We now have somebody that – we call the fire station our house – we now have somebody in our house that’s no longer there. So there’s a void that’s there. Anytime things like this happen, I’ve learned that through the fire service it’s all hands on deck,” Baker said. “I have people calling from every single angle [saying] ‘What can I do? How can I help?” … We’re not dealing with it quite like the immediate family because they are there with the visitation and they’re seeing him, but this is like a 911 call for us in a sense … When those tones go off for us, he’s getting on that truck and responding, that’s what we’re doing now for him.”

Both Baker and Barakey provided messages of support to Stephens. Baker expressed how the fire department is with him all the way.

“Just know that we here at Suffolk Fire and Rescue and just the fire community throughout Hampton Roads have your back. We’re here for you 100%,” said Baker. “You just focus on the task that you have at hand and we promise that we got your back and we got everything covered from there.”

Lastly, Barakey tells Stephens to focus on himself and his family first and foremost.

“You take care of you and get well, and we’ll take care of the business. We’re going to take care of the side that you don’t need to worry about,” Barakey said. “ … the 318 people, the 318 firefighters and medics and officers are here for you. You take care of you, take care of your healing, and we’ll take care of your business.”

To support Hunter Stephens and his family, go to