Hundreds attended a memorial service Wednesday for a Waycross firefighter who died in the line of duty early Sunday morning. Sirens, bagpipes and bugle were part of the ceremony at Central Baptist Church.
Lt. Jeff Little, 50, was fighting a fire in a vacant house when the roof collapsed, according to investigators.
Little’s colleagues said he made a huge impact everywhere he worked. He earned the reputation as a mentor to many. The night he died, he was training a rookie firefighter as his engine company.
Two people have been arrested and booked in jail on charges of arson and murder. They are 17-year-old Zachery Thompson and 23-year-old Ronnie Cranford.
The two suspects lived just blocks from each other and investigators said it was a tip into the arson hotline that helped track them down.
Flags have been flying at half-staff in Waycross since Sunday, the day the city lost one of it’s bravest in Little.
"We often say you don't pick to be 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.?
Lt. Little was a paramedic and a hazardous materials teams specialist before becoming a firefighter. He loved training others and, ironically, was showing a rookie the ropes when the roof of the vacant home, that was on fire, collapsed on him. Family members said he was also trained in EMS and volunteered as a reserve police officer.
Little leaves behind a wife and a son.
“Hero. One word, hero. I did 20 years in the Navy, I've met a lot of heroes. I always have and always will continue to think of firemen, paramedics as first line heroes,” said Jeff’s brother, Andrew Little.
Little's two brothers are relieved to now know the two suspects have been caught. Although the two suspects didn't intentionally kill the lieutenant, under Georgia state law, if you commit a felony that results in a death, you're charged with murder.
“My thoughts don't really matter because in the end the law will get them. I'm sorry for them. I hate that their lives are over, but I didn't do it, they did it,” said Andrew Little.
Eddins described Jeff Little as a selfless person. He was with the department for 12 years. It's been an extremely difficult week for the department and as they prepared to attend his memorial service Wednesday afternoon, he prayed they would pull through together.
"There's not a book for a fire chief on how to deal with something like this, and a lot of times I'm taking my crew's lead on it if they want to talk or reminiscence, and that day will come, and we'll laugh about it, but that's another day,” Eddins said.
"Jeff did not meet a stranger," Andrew Little said. "If he would've walked out here talking to you all, all of you would've had a cup of coffee in your hand and you would have been cutting up with him."
Little was originally from Alabama, and that’s where he will be buried on Friday.
Family members said Alabama Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban sent them a message expressing his condolences. Little was a big fan of the coach and the team.
Firefighters and police officers from all over joined his friends and family at the funeral. Some came from Alabama, others from Florida.
"Unforntately it's something we didn't want to see, but we're going to go up and let their family and their fire department know that we love them and the best thing we can do for them now is pray for them," said Cmdr. Jonathan Lamm, of Clay County (Fla.) Fire Rescue.