‘His spirit lives on’: Nephew shares legacy of JFRD firefighter as city honors fallen

Waterfall added to Jacksonville firefighters memorial wall at Fire Station No. 1 downtown

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Keenen Benton never met his Uncle Leon, but he carried on his legacy just the same.

Keenen has been an engineer with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department for eight years.

“He passed away a few months before I was born, so I didn’t get to meet him, but I hear stories and everything about him,” Keenen said. “He was a really good person and an even better firefighter.”

Leon Benton was one of 25 fallen firefighters honored Wednesday during a remembrance ceremony at Fire Station No. 1 on North Liberty Street downtown -- the very station where Benton died in 1990.

He had a heart attack while playing basketball.

“He really was a good person,” Leon’s sister, Carol Benton, said. “He loved helping people, and his spirit lives on even today.”

The fallen firefighters memorial at Fire Station No. 1 now includes a waterfall feature. (WJXT)

Carol Benton recalled her favorite moment from her brother’s firefighter career: when he helped deliver a baby.

“He said, ‘Guess what I did today!’ It was in a motor vehicle accident, and he delivered a baby,” Carol Benton said. “I was so proud of him.”

Fire Station No. 1 now has a plaque to remember Leon Benton’s time as a firefighter.

During Wednesday’s ceremony, firefighters carried helmets one by one down the aisle, honoring the 25 fallen firefighters of JFRD.

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All 25 names were read aloud, including the three firefighters the department lost in 2021:

  • Engineer Michael L. Freeland died while trying to rescue a driver who struck a concrete utility pole. An autopsy report showed he died of natural causes.
  • Lt. Mario J. Moya also died last year following hospitalization with COVID-19. He was exposed while making emergency medical calls.
  • Capt. Thomas M. Barber died in 2021 at a Macclenny hospital. His cause of death was not publicly released.
The fallen firefighters memorial at Fire Station No. 1 now includes a waterfall feature. (WJXT)

Mayor Lenny Curry declared Wednesday as Fallen Firefighter Memorial Day in Jacksonville, and JFRD also showcased a new waterfall that was added to the memorial wall, so families can look at it and take a moment to remember their loved ones.

The state of Florida honored fallen firefighters on Tuesday with State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis “ringing the bell” at the Florida Capitol.

The ceremony recognized the 35 brave men and women who have lost their lives since 2017 in Florida.

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.