Wednesday, March 28, 2012

TOP STORY >> Farewell to fallen firefighter

Leader staff writer

“We are celebrating the life of Donny Jones,” Battalion Chief Joe Bratton, chaplain for the Jacksonville Fire Department, told more than 500 people gathered at Saturday’s funeral for 31-year-veteran firefighter Capt. Donald Lee Jones.

Jones was killed last Monday after Bryce Allen, 47, of Jacksonville drove around emergency vehicles and struck him, firefighter/engineer Jason Bowmaster and police officer Daniel DiMatteo as they were working the scene of an accident at 8411 Hwy. 161.

His is the first line-of-duty death for the department. The other two men were seriously injured, but are in stable condition.

About half of the crowd at McArthur Assembly of God Church on Saturday were fire-fighters and police officers from all over the state and hundreds of miles away.

Arkansas flags were flown at half-staff on Friday. A U.S. honor flag, the one that was flown during recovery efforts at Ground Zero in New York City, was sent from Texas to honor Jones, who was 56 years old.

Bratton said, “Donny was a unique individual. He was one of a kind. He was the most talkative, quiet guy I knew. He wouldn’t run up to you, but if you got on a topic he liked, he would talk forever.

“He worked hard. He didn’t really look at things, I think, as play. He worked at his play. If you went fishing with Donny, you went for the day and maybe the night and you’d better bring some food and water with you because he would be there. He wasn’t going back to the dock for anything, especially if the fish were biting. But even if they weren’t, he could sit there and look at the line for a long time before he ever moved the boat.

“Whether it was hunting or fishing or helping a young lady play softball or whatever else, Donny was all in. He was all in, about that. Donny brought that same passion to his job at the fire department.

“When I met him in 1984, when I was hired on, I thought he’d been here a long time. In fact, he’d only been here three years. But he just knew his job, and he was professional at his job. And I thought he was one of these men that had already been there 20 years,” Bratton said.

“He was a good EMT on the ambulance, one of the best EMTs I’ve ever worked with on the ambulance. He was a good firefighter. For me, that’s one of the best compliments you can give a man, is that he’s a good firefighter.

“Donny taught me things about the fire service and about firefighting.

“He taught me that it isn’t just fun, which, back then, it was all fun to me. We had great fun in our times and I looked forward to our runs. He said to me, ‘It isn’t just fun. It’s a job, and jobs have to be done right. They have to be done professionally because what we’re doing is important. We’re involving people’s lives, and we’re involving people’s belongings.’

“One time, we had a fire over on Lehman Street. As it turned out, it was an attic fire and we used a little bit of water on it. It was one of those fires where stuff was kind of floating out of the front door. Donny was pretty upset about that. We got back to the station and he simply, quietly told us, ‘Guys we’re better than that. We’re better than that. It’s not just about putting out the fire. We’re about saving people’s belongings. We’re about saving people’s stuff.’ He was professional.

“He taught me about being aggressive but not being reckless. One time, I think it was Wayne Coleman and I, we’re at a house over on the east side of town and it was burnt up and we were inside it and it was on fire.

“We were fighting fire and he pulled us out. It was literally falling down around us. He pulled us out and then he fairly sternly again told me, ‘What were you doing? What was that worth? It was already lost. There was nothing to save. You were just risking yourself. Don’t do that.’

“He believed in taking care of his people, and he did that both on and off of the fire ground. And that’s how he believed in doing his job. He believed in doing it right,” Bratton said.

“Donny loved his family and he didn’t put them last. He loved his family. He loved his kids. He loved his grandkids, his great grandchild. Betty, he loved the time he spent with you. It seems like it was just yesterday that we were standing at the alter and you were getting married. And you were buddies and I know that. He wasn’t just a husband. He was your friend.

“I also learned that you have a new addition to the house. I met him the other day, Beebe the dog. I heard that Donny was quite took up with Beebe, that even when you went fishing he would make a tent in the boat so that Beebe wouldn’t get too hot. “That’s pretty high status for somebody in Donny’s world that he would take the time on a fishing trip to take care of the dog.

“He was a good provider. He was a faithful husband, a caring dad and a grandpa and great grandpa. I think he summed up everything that I think a good firefighter and a good person should be.

“He was a good friend of mine, and I’m sure he was a good friend of yours if you knew him, because if he was a friend, he was a good friend.”

The Conway Firefighters Pipes and Drums played the bagpipes. “I Miss My Friend” by Darryl Worley drifted through the silent sanctuary before Bratton came to the microphone.

When Bratton finished speaking, Craig Morgan’s “Almost Home” and “A Voice Missing from Roll Call” accompanied a photo slideshow.

Then the firefighters and policemen formed a line to salute their friend and fellow service-man.

A long procession of fire trucks, an ambulance and a few police cars escorted Jones to his final resting place at Chapel Hill Memorial Park Cemetery in Jacksonville.

Donations to a memorial fund for Jones’ family, Bowmaster and DiMatteo can be made at any Arvest Bank branch.