WAYCROSS, Ga. - As the Waycross Fire Department reels from the death of Lt. Jeff Little, the state fire marshal and Waycross police are seeking leads in the arson fire that killed the 12-year veteran.
The 50-year-old died early Sunday morning after getting trapped in a burning home in Waycross.
Glenn Allen, a spokesman for the state fire marshal's office, said the home on Isabella Street had been vacant for a long time. A ceiling collapsed on Little, who was pulled out by fellow firefighters and given CPR. He was pronounced dead at the Mayo Clinic Health System in Waycross.
Under Georgia law, Little's death is being investigated as a homicide because the fire was the result of arson. The state is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information. Anyone one with information can call the Georgia Arson Hotline at 800-282-5804.
A recovery home for women battling drug and alcohol addiction is located directly across the street the the home that burned. Cathy Sweats, the director there, thinks homeless may have been sheltering in the house for warmth Saturday night.
"We are certainly in mourning about the loss of our hero," said Sweat, of Bethesda House of Mercy. "That's what I told our church Sunday morning: This is someone who was risking his life for the community because he wasn't -- just wasn't one house they were trying to save, they were trying to protect the other houses that surround it."
Little graduated from Sylacauga High School in Sylacauga, Ala., and worked for Childersburg Fire and Rescue in Childersburg, Ala. He moved to Waycross in 2000, joining the fire department in 2002. He was promoted to lieutenant in July and commanded an engine company of three members.
"We often say you don't pick to be a firefighter, it's something that you're born to be, and Jeff Little was definitely born to be in public safety," said Waycross Fire Chief David Eddins.
Eddins said his entire department is mourning the death of Little, who was a paramedic and a a hazardous materials team specialist before becoming a firefighter. His colleagues say his passion was training others.
"Jeff fully understood his role as he moved up through the ranks to bring people with him, and that made our fire department better as a whole," Eddins said.
Ironically, the 10-year veteran was training a rookie when the roof collapsed on top of him. Little was performing cleanup and salvage operations.
"Everybody is so sad," said Helen Strickland, who witnessed the fire. "It's terrible, especially right here at Christmastime."
Little is survived by his wife, Dianne Little of Waycross, son David Little, two stepsons, Michael Chad Grubb and Matthew Stephen Grubb, his parents, Isaac and Mary Little, and two brothers.
His obituary says Little loved fishing and was an avid Clemson Tide fan.
A viewing for Little will be held from 5-9 p.m. Tuesday at Central Baptist Church, located at 201 Ava Street in Waycross.
Little's memorial service is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday at the church. Little will be buried in private ceremony in Alabama on Friday.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Jeremy Norris Scholarship Fund, c/o James M. Dye Foundation, 2001 South Georgia Parkway, Waycross, GA 31503.
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