North Carolina Firefighter Killed on Highway Mourned


Posted: 06-16-2008
Updated: 06-16-2008 04:55:54 PM


SUSAN NICOL KYLE
Firehouse.Com News


JACKSONVILLE, N.C. -- It would be an understatement to say that firefighting runs through the veins of the Thomas family here.

Now, however, there is one less family member responding with the Verona Volunteer Fire Department.

On Saturday morning, Second Assistant Chief Gene Thomas, 51, was struck by a rig while assisting with patient care at the scene of a previous crash near Camp Lejeune.

Onslow County Deputy Steven Boehm, 36, also was struck and killed.

Dense smoke from a controlled burn on the Marine Corps base caused visibility to drop to zero on the highway. The Verona firefighters were called out to assist with several crashes along the road.

Thomas was working at the crash site with his older brother, Wayne, the fire chief.

When they encountered the visibility issue in the area, Chief Thomas had ordered the second and third incoming crews to shut down traffic for safety reasons, said Capt. Kevin Davis.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen before the semi struck the two men.

"Living across the street from the firehouse, Gene was always the first to arrive. We are one of the fastest crews around here to respond, and he was the reason why," Davis said.

Assistant Chief Thomas made a mark in his community as well as the 33 years he spent as a volunteer. "He was an outstanding person in every respect," Davis said.

He was one of those people who refused to give up, no matter what. If he couldn't find the proper tool to do the job, he'd make one. Whatever it took, he didn't walk away from an assignment.

"If every fire department had someone like Gene, they would always be able to make ends meet," Davis said of his friend.

When you mention the Verona Volunteer Fire Department, the Thomas family is the first thing that comes to mind in this area.

The victim's father, a founding member, is president, while his mother is secretary. His younger brother, Toby, is the first assistant chief.

His nephew is a career firefighter in Greensboro.

"They are a dedicated family," Davis said. "The fire service runs deep here. . ."

The chaplain from the North Carolina State Highway Patrol visited with firefighters on Saturday night. "It's been rough here. . ."

But, the members continue to answer alarms. "We're taking care of our own," Davis said, indicating that they are doing what Gene would want.

Funeral Information

Visitation for Firefighter Thomas will be held Monday, June 16 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Jones Funeral Home chapel in Jacksonville, N.C.

Funeral will be held Tuesday, June 17 at 11 a.m. at the funeral home chapel.

Burial will follow at Onslow Memorial Park.

Donations may be made to the Verona Volunteer Fire Dept., 101 Verona Road, Jacksonville, NC 28540.
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