Houston Fire Department honor guard members Deena Elliott of Station 51, James Wathen of Station 15, and Chris Hamrick of Station 47, from left, salute before a public viewing for firefighters Capt. James Harlow and Damion Hobbs at Grace Community Church.
Photo credit: AP Photo/The Houston Chronicle, Melissa Phillip
A fire truck carrying the casket of Houston Fire Department Capt. James Harlow is seen as it leads a procession from HFD Station 93 toward Grace Community Church during funeral services, April 16.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Julio Cortez
Houston said goodbye Thursday to two men who gave their lives to protect others, KPRC Local 2 reported.
Capt. James Harlow, 50, and Damion Hobbs, 29, of Fire Station 26, died battling a house fire on Oak Vista Street near De Leon Street shortly after 12 a.m. Sunday.
Harlow, Hobbs and other firefighters went inside the burning home to search for anyone who may have been trapped inside. Harlow and Hobbs did not make it out.
Hundreds paid their last respects at a memorial service at Grace Community Church, 14505 Gulf Freeway.
A procession, which included the firefighters' caskets on the top of fire trucks, went from Fire Station 93 on Dixie Farm Road to the church.
"These men responded to someone they never met, tried to protect something they never owned and we miss them terribly. We routinely respond to the worst day of a person's life. We are not immune to having the same accidents and tragedies happen to us," Houston Fire Chief Phil Boriskie said.
Harlow had been with the Houston Fire Department since 1979 and was promoted to captain in 2004.
Hobbs was a rookie firefighter who graduated from the Fire Academy in March. He returned from a 14-month tour of duty in Iraq in July 2007.
The men who served at Station 26 with Harlow and Hobbs asked Executive Assistant Fire Chief Rick Flanagan to share some of their most cherished memories.
Flanagan said for the first time in the department's history, it stopped working for several hours during Hurricane Ike because of high winds. Firefighters manned the stations.
"Somewhere in the distance they hear this popping sound," Flanagan said. "This large sound -- it sounded so strange. It didn't sound like a light pole or anything like that, but it was consistent as though it was motorized. It got louder and louder. Lo and behold, they could see some headlights that were coming up the driveway. Out of this pickup truck comes Capt. Harlow. He walks in the station and he tells those guys, 'Man, I don't know how I made it through this storm.' That gives you some insight to the kind of commitment this guy had. When we stopped, he was still going."
Flanagan talked about Hobbs' first day at Station 26.
"He goes to the fire station on March 7. The body of people there are quite unique," Flanagan said. "They embraced him. They embraced him in such a way that one of the veteran firefighters went in his locker, he got a rookie T-shirt that had a rookie label over the side. He was so impressed with this young man. He says, 'I want you to wear this. This is your seal of approval of acceptance.' Damion, a bold gentleman, quite proud to wear the shield. He put it on and everywhere he went, he wanted them to know he was the new man on the totem pole at Station 26. He wore that shirt. He wore that shirt, my friends in Christ, the Easter morning we pulled him out of that building."
Flanagan read from a letter the firefighters wrote.
"Capt. Harlow was affectionately referred to by his fellow firefighters as 'Capt. Hogleg,'" he read. "He was about as country as a country boy could be. A true salt of the Earth, a firefighters' captain who worked his way up in the ranks, but he never forgot what it was like starting out. He was always willing to do everything he asked his men to do. He was loved by all who had the privilege to know him."
Harlow's team said he was an inspiration to all.
"We responded to many fires together, and it was a comfort to know he was there," Flanagan read from the letter. "The pain that we all feel from losing him is a testament to the kind of man he was -- a good man. Thought it breaks our hearts to say goodbye, we will never regret knowing him."
The firefighters reminisced about the good times they had with Harlow.
"Out of all the captains we've ever had, Capt. Harlow was different, but in a good way," Flanagan read from the letter. "We took over the cooking duties because we were trying to keep our cholesterol down due to all the butter that Capt. Hogleg used."
The men said they will dearly miss their fearless captain, but there is one thing they won't miss.
"We won't miss his meatloaf," they wrote. "He tried to cook a 10-pound meatloaf in less than 45 minutes. He would always tell us, 'You know guys, my fingernails are a lot cleaner after I prepared that meal.' Thanks to Capt. Harlow, our immune systems are now iron-clad."
They said they would miss Harlow's chicken and dumplings, chicken and rice, pot roast and hog leg.
They had many memories of Harlow's time in the kitchen.
"Short of a serving spoon, Capt. Harlow would use his entire arm to stir our bucket of tea. Capt. Harlow created his own food group -- butter, butter and more butter."
The firefighters said Hobbs was on the pathway to a great career.
"He was a good rookie -- always reading, always cleaning, always learning," Flanagan read from the letter. "We know he was not with us for long, but we had a lot in common. He served in the military like many of us did. It was obvious that he dedicated his life to public service and to make our world a better and a much safer place. He had what it takes to be a great firefighter."
The firefighters wrote about the final fire.
"We will never forget that night of the fire," they wrote. "The thought of Capt. Harlow and Hobbs will be in our minds forever. It is something that we will have to live with, but we know that they are in Heaven and in good company."
Houston Mayor Bill White offered thanks on behalf of the people who depend on the firefighters.
"We give thanks to the service and the sacrifice. We give it to all the family members. We give it to those involved in our Houston Fire Department and their families," White said. "Life is not measured in days, but in how much we give to others. It's just a fact that we need this reminder from time to time. Faith can overcome death."
White said the two firefighters knew there was a risk and they accepted it on behalf of all the residents of Houston.
"James and Damion will not be forgotten," he said.
The fire chief asked all firefighters and their families attending the service to stand as he thanked them for their service.
"Whenever there is a fire in this city, I'm sure God is asking, 'Whom should I send and who should go for us?' The firefighters always respond, 'Here I am. Send me,'" Boriskie said.
Firefighters from across the state came to Houston to protect the city to allow Houston firefighters to attend the memorial service. Many of them participated in the procession.
The 100 Club and Last Alarm Club are accepting donations to help the men's families.
KPRC Local 2 is hosting a phone bank on Friday from 6 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. to raise money for the 100 Club.
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