Honoring a fallen Verona firefighter

ONSLOW COUNTY -- Emotions ran deep in Jacksonville as people gathered to honor a firefighter who was killed in the line of duty.

It was a somber scene as firefighters from dozens of fire departments across southeastern North Carolina said goodbye to one of their own.

Gene Thomas, a Verona volunteer firefighter, was killed in the line of duty while he was responding to a car accident.

"He made the ultimate sacrifice. Something bad happened while he was doing something that he loved and had done for over 30 years. He'll be missed," said John Reed.

Firefighters lifted Thomas' casket onto the Verona fire truck.

And while many in the crowd are emergency responders, some never met Thomas.  They said they were at the service to honor a man who dedicated his life to others.

"They risk their lives everyday for us and for the community, it's a tragedy," said Kim Stevenson.

Firefighters said it's not just a job for them, and that it's a close knit community - a brotherhood.  When they lose one of their own, they realize just how dangerous their job can be.

Even though they prepare themselves daily for the possibility of tragedy, it doesn't make it any easier to say goodbye when it strikes.

Reported by Sarah Warlick