Missing Grand Rapids firefighter presumed dead after boat fire

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SPRING LAKE, Mich. — Investigators are still working to positively identify a body found on board a boat that burned and sank in a Spring Lake marina early Sunday.

The boat's owner, David Knisley, a 19-year veteran with the Grand Rapids Fire Department, has been missing since Saturday and is presumed dead.

Those who knew him say they are preparing for the likelihood the body on board is that of Knisley.

“At this point in time we are still awaiting all the official results," said Ron Tennant, deputy chief with GRFD. "We are certainly hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst and ready to stand by and with the family.”

Knisley, a father of three, also served on GRFD's Technical Rescue Team and the Michigan Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, according to Tennant.

“He was a very dedicated firefighter, he had high expectations, and a high ambition to drive himself and drive others to excellence," he said.

But when he wasn't rushing into burning buildings, Knisley was serving his community in another way he knew and loved: in front of the TV camera.

David Knisley (right), Tom Norton (left) hostin WKTV's annual coverage of the Dreamwheels Metro Cruise coverage. (WKTV)

David Knisley (right), Tom Norton (left) hostin WKTV's annual coverage of the Dreamwheels Metro Cruise. (WKTV)

Since 2009, Knisley had regularly hosted motor-sports specials on WKTV, the local public access station for Wyoming and Kentwood.

The station's general manager, Tom Norton, said Knisley was a consummate professional.

“I was really stunned, just stunned," Norton said. “He had that kind of community spirit where he came and volunteered his time at the local community television station. That speaks a lot about the kind of man he was, and being a full-time firefighter, he had that giving spirit already.”

Norton said he knew Knisley loved his boat and would take every chance he could to be on it. It wasn't uncommon for him to spend the night on it either.

Knisley had even switched shifts with a co-worker this past weekend to spend time on the boat, Norton said.

Knisley's burned boat lifted from the water Sunday evening.

Knisley's burned boat lifted from the water Sunday evening.

Crews pulled Knisley's boat from the water Sunday evening after spending several hours working to carefully retrieve it. Because of the damage sustained from the fire, crews said they had to slowly lift it from the water to avoid causing further damage.

The cause of the fire remains unknown but it is believed to be an accident.

"Dave spent his life running into burning buildings to rescue other people and the irony of losing his own life in a tragic fire is difficult to contemplate," Norton said.

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