JFRD in mourning after firefighter killed in crash

FHP says SUV hit JEA truck stopped in westbound lane of Arlington Expressway

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A fiery crash late Tuesday night on the Arlington Expressway that killed 43-year-old Chris Swary left his co-workers at Jacksonville Fire and Rescue in a state of shock.

Swary had been with the department since January 2002.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, about 11 p.m. Swary crashed into a JEA truck picking up cones on the Arlington Expressway just west of the Cesery Boulevard overpass.

The flag outside Fire Station 11 was at half-staff Wednesday to honor Swary. His captain said he was getting ready for shift change when all of the JFRD division chiefs showed up to tell him of Swary's death. He had to deliver the news to the rest of the men and women at the fire house.

"That was very difficult," said Capt. Richard Reichard. "As you know, we are like a family. We eat together, sleep together, hang out on our days off together. That's probably in 21 years the most difficult thing I've ever had to do."

Reichard said Swary was loved by his shift mates and those on other shifts loved it when he would fill in, always with a smile to lift the spirits of others.

"Chris was the ultimate professional. He's the guy you'd want coming to your family," Reichard said. "(He) never complained, always gave 110 percent. He was always a pleasure to work with."

JFRD released a statement to the community saying the department was was in mourning.

"It is through profound sorrow and a heavy heart that the JFRD is preparing to acknowledge, pending confirmation from the ongoing investigation, the untimely and ineffably tragic passing of Firefighter Christopher Swary, who lost his life in a motor vehicle accident late last night. ... Christopher will always be remembered for his unparalleled dedication to the JFRD as well as to the community he felt privileged and honored to serve."

Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, said it's times like this it is evident that firefighters are a brotherhood.

"In these types of situations, that's where family comes together," Wyse said. "That's what this department will do; they will wrap their arms around them and really try to rally around during this difficult time."

Video taken by a witness to the crash showed firefighters trying to put out the massive flames that erupted after Swary's SUV slammed into the back of the truck.

At one point the witness said he worried about his own safety. He was amazed at how quickly the fire spread.

“It was completely engulfed, you couldn't see the seats, you couldn't see the steering wheel. The glass was shattered out. You couldn't see any of that stuff,” said Kurt Taylor. “It got me pretty nervous about my own vehicle, because I have a small leak from the filler neck to the gas tank whenever I fill it above half. And it just reminded me to be extra careful on the road because the same thing could happen to me if someone slammed into the back of me.”

The JEA workers weren't hurt, but the utility is doing its own investigation to determine if proper safety  procedures were followed.

The westbound lanes of the Arlington Expressway were closed while the accident was investigated and cleared. The lanes reopened about 6:30 a.m.