Firefighters salute fallen comrade

Chris Swary, 43, died Tuesday in crash on Arlington Expressway

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A somber procession of firefighters and police escorted the body of a Jacksonville fireman to a funeral home on Thursday.

Chris Swary, 43, was killed Tuesday night in a crash with a JEA truck on Arlington Expressway.

Even in the rain, firefighters lined overpasses through downtown and on Arlington Expressway to salute their fallen brother as his remains were escorted early Thursday afternoon from the Medical Examiner’s Office to the funeral home.

“That's what it's all about. When one of us is hurting, we all hurt,” Lt. Sam Mays said. “But we all try to lift each other up.”

Mays worked with Swary for years at Station 11 and alongside him at Station 28 before that. As he stood Thursday next to Swary's helmet where his gear usually sits, Mays said it will be difficult on Saturday when Swary's co-workers are back at work and the first call comes in, not have Swary there.

“We work better under stressful situations,” Mays said. “We always seem to excel when the stress level is very high.”

The Florida Highway Patrol is still investigating the crash that killed Swary. An FHP spokesman said the JEA truck that Swary hit had its signaling lights activated. He is checking on whether the truck had a law enforcement escort or whether one is even required for the work the truck was doing.

JEA said that one of its Vactor trucks, which is used to remove standing water, was hit. The agency couldn’t comment further about specifics of the crash.

The Florida Department of Transportation said that depending on the nature of the work being done, some of DOT's requirements relating to signaling lights and a vehicle escort might be different.

JEA is working to get News4Jax a breakdown of its internal procedures for different types of projects.

Meanwhile at Station 11, those who worked with Swary said he leaves behind the legacy of a loving father and a man who was always ready for the next call.

“He's one of the hardest workers I've ever had the pleasure of working with,” Mays said. “He'd come in every day with a smile on his face, singing a song, dancing -- whatever he knew would get the day going right. That was just him, and I think that's one of the biggest things I'm going to miss.”

Swary’s family has already received financial assistance from the Jacksonville Firefighters Death Benefits Fund, which the department has for circumstances like Swary's death. His family has also been shown an outpouring of support from other firefighters and the community, and a GoFundMe account has been set up for the family.

Funeral arrangements for Swary are still being made, but in lieu of sending flowers, Swary’s family is asking anyone who would like to donate, to give to Jacksonville Firefighter Charities.

Swary's co-workers are also asking the community to keep them in your thoughts and prayers, but said that when the next call comes in, they will be ready, and they will do the job the same way they always do it, despite their heavy hearts.