Terminally Ill, West Virginia Firefighter Made Chief

Unable to respond, his crews keep him apprised of conditions via radio.

Hill said Farthing has worked for Williams-Blue Ridge Funeral Home in Sophia about 32 years, with the business even giving him an apartment near downtown. At the funeral home, he has assisted during services, helped get cars parked and cleaned the building.

"Some people have even requested Sonny," Hill said. "So many people have known him their whole lives because of his help at funerals."

Hill, a Pennsylvania resident, as well as two other sisters, Cleveland resident Sharon Graziolli and Alabama resident Dorothy Bedingfield, and brother-in-law Bob Bedingfield gathered at Farthing's apartment Friday. Hill showed her brother's countless plaques and firefighter memorabilia that practically filled his small apartment. She was in awe.

"I had no idea our brother had done so much," she said. "We dearly love him, and look at what he has done and accomplished."

"He loves (firefighting). You can see the shine in his eyes, especially when he gets to train the younger ones. The kids tell him they will always remember him and that he will never be gone. They've told him, "Every time we go to a fire, stay with us. Look out for us like a guardian angel."

Friday morning, State Fire Marshal Sterling Lewis made Farthing a deputy state fire marshal, Pittman said. But the firefighters who have reached out and have created special honors for him are literally spread from California to New York.

Pittman said Farthing met a FDNY ladder company member from Staten Island at a past emergency services conference at Pipestem. He explained FDNY has a "ride-along" list, and ride-alongs are assigned positions on the truck. The night of April 10, Farthing was put on FDNY's official log of ride-alongs and given the officer's position.

Numerous people have sent e-mails to Sonny at chiefsonny@pittmangrafix.com, which Pittman reads to him every day.

"This isn't being done just for embellishment or just because he's sick," Pittman said. "He has deserved every one of them."

Knowing they are likely to soon lose such an integral part of the fire department has taken its toll on Farthing's fellow firefighters, Pittman said.

"When Sterling deputized him over the radio, I tried to tell my wife and I was unable to tell her," he said. "Firefighting has this great brotherhood. We'll all watch "Ladder 49" or "Backdraft" or hear about another firefighter lost in the line of duty and tear up. But it's even harder when someone you know is dealing with a terminal illness."

Farthing has made plans for his own funeral, Pittman said, but his fellow firefighters - from across Raleigh County - wanted to show him how he will be honored while he is still living. When he arrived home from the hospital, an estimated 50 firefighters and numerous fire engines were gathered outside. All firefighters saluted the chief.

"That's the love he has in the firefighting community," Pittman said.