Grand Strand fire department to hold special ceremony for fallen firefighter

The Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire Department is honoring a late lieutenant in a special way.
Published: Jul. 14, 2023 at 8:43 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 14, 2023 at 9:04 AM EDT
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GARDEN CITY, SC (WMBF) - The Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire Department is honoring a late lieutenant in a special way.

Lieutenant Matthew Piontkowsk died on June 9 from line-of-duty-related cancer at 40 years old.

First responders from across the Grand Strand are coming together to hold a paddle-out ceremony to celebrate his life. The ceremony will start with a lighted procession of water rescue units from the Garden City pier.

Jet skis, fire boats, family and friends will then go out into the ocean where they will sprinkle some of Piontkowski’s remains.

They will also lay flowers on a surfboard with his water rescue vest.

Piontkowski was a member of the fire department’s surf rescue, boat rescue and hurricane response teams. He joined the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire Department in 2018 after spending seven years at Horry County Fire Rescue.

Piontkowski’s co-worker and friend, Battalion Chief Brennan Moore, said he was funny, hardworking and an amazing friend.

“He’s full of charisma,” Moore said. “He always smiled. You have to be Matt’s friend if you’re gonna be Matt’s friend. He’s gonna take care of you. Matt was the type of friend that if I needed anything, Matt was there.”

Moore said Piontkowski put his heart and soul into keeping the community safe.

Line-of-duty cancer is currently the number one killer of firefighters, according to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.

Piontkowski’s former co-worker and friend, Brad Kavetski, started South Carolina’s chapter of the organization. He said the group helps firefighters fighting the disease as well as their families.

“The day that I had found out Piontkowski had been diagnosed with cancer, I reached out to him and his crew at Murrells Inlet to see what we could do for them,” Kavetski said.

Kavetski said the group also helped push for a South Carolina law signed in 2020.

The law aims to help families of firefighters with cancer and helped Pionktowski cover treatment costs.

Moore said losing Piontkowski has been hard on the department, but he knows this is exactly how he would want to be remembered.

“It was a hard hit; we can’t fill that hole,” Moore said. “So, we’re gonna try to do this one right and truly celebrate Matt. That’s all he would do in the same situation. He would celebrate us. Matt will go off into the horizon for us, and it’s kind of a sweet release, but we’ll see him again someday.”

The paddle-out ceremony is Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Azalea Avenue beach access three in Garden City.