Damion Jon Hobbs survived a tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Iraq only to perish in a southeast Houston house fire early Easter Sunday, little more than a month after he fulfilled his lifelong dream of becoming a firefighter.
"This is what he wanted to do, and this is what he loved," his sister Janice DeShazer said. "He died doing what he loved."
DeShazer had always worried that she might lose her younger brother in combat or in an accident on his beloved motorcycle, a 2007 collector's edition Repsol. But not like this, battling his very first fire after graduating from HFD's Val Jahnke Training Facility on March 3.
Hobbs and 50-year-old veteran firefighter James Harlow of Pasadena died in the fire, bringing the Houston Fire Department's death toll to seven since 2000.
Harlow spent 30 years with the Houston Fire Department. He was named captain at Fire Station 26 in 2004.
Harlow's crew member and fellow firefighter David Watson mourned the loss of his captain on Sunday.
"It's just feels like a bad dream and he'll be there when we come back to work," said Watson, 40, who has worked on Harlow's crew at Fire Station 26 for about five years.
A devoted husband, father and grandfather, Harlow was a respectable and approachable captain, who made sure his crew members were always comfortable approaching him, Watson said.
"If you had anything you needed to talk about whether it was about the fire department or family, you could talk to him," Watson said. "He had an open-door policy."
On fire scenes, Watson said Harlow was quick and precise, always ready to tackle a challenge. With fire victims, he had a caring and helpful demeanor.
"Even if he was tired, he wouldn't shortchange you of good service," Watson said.
No matter what the situation, Harlow was an optimist. In his East-Texas accent, he would spout his reassuring motto, "Everything is going to be all right."
"That will be his legacy at the station and we'll be passing it on to the next generation," Watson said. "Somebody else will be able to do the job and fill those shoes, but no one will be able to fill the kind of man that he was."
In Alvin, Hobbs' colleagues from both the military and the fire department also rallied around his grieving relatives on Sunday to remember a man with a strong sense of duty who never shied from danger.
"He was kind of a little bit of an adrenaline junkie," DeShazer said. "He liked speed and he liked excitement, but at the same time he was very down-to-earth and liked to stay close to home."
Hobbs was born and raised in Alvin, where his close-knit family members still live together on the same piece of land off County Road 147.
Reached by telephone on Sunday afternoon, his father, Jon Garland Hobbs, said his son actually joined the fire department twice, but the first time his training was interrupted when he shipped off to Iraq.
Hobbs joined the Army a decade ago, not long after graduating from Alvin High School.
Originally assigned to the 1st Cavalry at Fort Hood, the staff sergeant was still active with the Air National Guard reserve out of Ellington, 1/149 D Company, at the time of his death, DeShazer said.
He returned home from a 14-month deployment to Iraq in July 2007 and started classes at HFD's Val Jahnke Training Facility less than a year later. His first assignment at Fire Station 26 began on March 7.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
A dual memorial service for Capt. Harlow and Firefighter Hobbs will be held Thursday, April 16 at 10 a.m. at Grace Community Church at 14505 Gulf Freeway, Houston, Texas.
Separate private funeral services will be held for each man on Friday, April 17.