On April 30, 1977, St. Louis County Police Officer James Reifschneider was conducting a traffic stop when he was struck by a motorist and killed, leaving behind his wife, Sue Reifschneider, and their three children. The BackStoppers immediately began assisting the Reifschneider family. Now, more than 40 years later, the family’s heritage of honor is more than apparent. Officer Reifschneider’s son, Lt. Mike Reifschneider, is a BackStoppers Family Friend volunteer and serves with the St. Louis County Police Department as his father did. Lt. Reifschneider’s daughter, Kara Reifschneider George, is a dispatcher for the department and his son, Jake Reifschneider, is a paramedic pursuing a career in firefighting.
Lt. Reifschneider recalls what brought him to the same career path as his father, “After my father’s death, I did not immediately seek to become a police officer. I did not want to put my mother and family through another traumatic event if something similar were to happen to me. I went to Ranken Technical College and, after graduation, sought a job in the construction field. Like many children of fallen officers, at first, we choose a different career path, but life’s calling directs us back to where we are supposed to be. This was the case for me 35 years ago”.
A 35-year veteran of law enforcement, Lt. Reifschneider continues his father’s legacy by remembering him every day on duty. “I pass by his photo on the wall which is displayed with photos of other St. Louis County officers that were killed in the line of duty. I remember a time when there were fewer photos hanging on the wall. I have always tried to conduct myself in a way that would not tarnish his name. I believe I have honored him by raising his grandchildren in a way that they, too, decided on their own to become part of the first responder community”.
Lt. Reifschneider reflects on growing up in a first responder family and learning more about his father since entering the field, “My father was killed in the line of duty when I was fourteen. With shift rotations and working secondary, we did not get to see him as often as kids I knew whose fathers were not police officers. The majority of what I know about my father came from stories his friends told me about him once I became a police officer. Later in my career, I was also given copies of his personnel file. I found most of the things mentioned in his rating sheets by his supervisors, whom I later met, were like the things written in mine. Throughout the years I have been told by his friends how much I am like him and remind them of how he conducted himself”.
Lt. Reifschneider notably inherited his father’s traits and work ethic, and instilled the same in his son, Paramedic Jake Reifschneider. “I have tried to pass the same traits along to my son; having integrity, doing what is right even when no one is watching, having a good work ethic, and having compassion for others while being able to stand firm through adversity”.
Paramedic Reifschneider has ambitiously taken on the family legacy by pursuing a career as a first responder. After graduating high school, Paramedic Reifschneider enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Reserve where he served as a medic. Upon completion of his training, he returned home to pursue a paramedic/firefighting career. After completing a paramedic program at Jefferson College in 2017, he graduated from the St. Louis County Fire Academy earlier this year. His nonstop work ethic has led him to serving full time at Union Ambulance District and part time with both the New Haven and Osage Ambulance Districts. As busy as this keeps him, he is still actively working towards becoming a firefighter/paramedic in St. Louis County.
Continuing the family’s heritage of honor was not the only motivator for Paramedic Reifschneider to become a first responder. Paramedic Reifschneider shares, “I decided to become a first responder after my brother, Jonah, passed away from a rare genetic disease. I knew that I wanted to help others just like his hospice nurses helped my family”. Lt. Reifschneider speaks with pride about his son’s choice, “I could not be happier. In todays’ environment, I am glad Jake decided to be a paramedic instead of a police officer. Since he was a child, he had an interest in medicine. With his younger brother having a terminal illness, he assisted his mother and I with his brother’s care daily. He had abilities and compassion beyond his years”.
Both Lt. Reifschneider and Paramedic Reifschneider have had to press on through unimaginable tragedies, but each remains determined to honor his family. Paramedic Reifschneider says, “My grandfather and father have left big shoes for me to fill, but I try to serve others with integrity and honor. I enjoy having the privilege of serving citizens”. The Reifschneider’s lineage of public service is an inspiration, and their integrity and work ethic a benefit to our community. In this way, Officer James Reifschneider’s service that began in 1967 continues today, and we are eternally grateful for the ultimate sacrifice he made and the legacy he left behind.
“The BackStoppers is committed to our first responders. They were there on the morning of Saturday, April 30, 1977, and have been assisting my mother as needed for the last 41 years”.
– Lt. Mike Reifschneider
“I would like everyone to know that BackStoppers supports the fallen first responders’ families from day one, and they never stop supporting them. I have seen an example of their support with my grandma as BackStoppers has been with her. Knowing that BackStoppers will be there for my family should something happen to me in the line of duty makes it easier to run towards the dangers we face as first responders every day.”
–Paramedic Jake Reifschneider