Terminally Ill West Virginia Fire Chief Dies

SOPHIA, W.Va. -- Colleagues say firefighting was the love of Louis Dale "Sonny" Farthing's life.

Now, they plan to give him a firefighter's -- and a hero's -- farewell.

Farthing, the 61-year-old chief of the Sophia City Volunteer Fire Department, died at a hospice house early Thursday morning, said his successor, Jeff Pittman. Farthing endured multiple cancers that included leukemia.

Farthing was a Sophia native who began his firefighting career with the Sophia Area Volunteer Fire Department in 1972. Five years later, he moved to the city's own department, and he remained a member for the rest of his life. For 20 years, Farthing was a sergeant, and he spent two years as a lieutenant, Pittman said. He became a deputy assistant chief in December 2007. On April 8, then-Chief William Simon relinquished his position, and Farthing took that spot.

He also worked at Williams-Blue Ridge Funeral Home in Sophia for 32 years, with the business even giving him an apartment near downtown. This, colleagues said, allowed him to help even more people in their darkest hours.

"This has hit all of the firefighters hard, even though we knew ...," Pittman said.

Firefighters and family members stayed by Farthing's side around the clock through his final hours, Pittman said. When he died, firefighters gathered to say their goodbyes as a group and talked about happier times -- namely, when he encouraged younger firefighters.

"Sonny has been the constant of this fire department," Pittman said. "He understood the brotherhood, the love of firefighting. This was the love of Sonny's life. He loved it, lived it and breathed it.

"He was true blue and 100 percent real. This was his life. This was his baby. He absolutely loved it and lived it."

After Farthing was profiled in The Register-Herald in April, Pittman said he was flooded with e-mails literally from "Maine to California." A retired teacher in Texas e-mailed messages for Farthing twice a day and sent cards and gifts.

Pittman said the department is planning a "full firefighter's funeral" for Farthing, and several other fire departments and public safety agencies are expected to attend.

Republished with permission of The Register-Herald.

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