Photo credit: ERNST PETERS/THE LEDGER
`This is the last alarm for firefighter Benjamin Lang." Throughout the Church of the Nazarene's sanctuary Thursday, an emergency scanner carried a dispatcher's somber voice, remembering the Polk County firefighter who died in an ambulance crash Monday.
With sobs audible over the scanner's alarm and static, the dispatcher's tribute proved to be one of the most emotional moments at Lang's memorial service, which drew firefighters, police officers and emergency workers from across the state.
"He made us a better fire department," said Polk County Fire Department Chief Douglas Lewis. "He wasn't just a hero. He was our super hero."
Lang, 22, a Polk County firefighter/EMT, was helping a paramedic attend to a patient in the back of an ambulance when it crashed into a tree off County Road 542 in Winter Haven. He is the first professional Polk County firefighter to die in the line of duty. Two volunteer firefighters died on the job in the early 1980s. Those who spoke at Lang's memorial service stressed the value of a life of service, such as his.
"This room is full of people wishing to celebrate . . . what Ben did before he was called to eternity," said John Long, the Polk County Fire Department's chaplain, who preached at Thursday's service.
Lang joined the Polk County Fire Department on a part-time basis soon after graduating from Lake Wales High School in 1999.
In July 2001, he was hired as a full-time firefighter and EMT, based out of Polk County Fire Department Station 8.
News of his death shook emergency workers throughout the county, deputy fire chief Mike Linkins said.
"Ben's death has brought us to our knees," said Linkin, as his voice broke and he began to cry.
Ceremony and tradition permeated Thursday's service.
Outside the church, two fire trucks waited for the memorial procession. Their ladders were raised and leaning together, an American flag draped between them.
Inside, mourners and flowers filled the sanctuary.
An honor guard, made up of firefighters from across the state, marched toward Lang's coffin, saluting as it passed.
His family was presented with a flag, along with Lang's helmet and a medal of honor.
A trumpeter played taps. Then bagpipes resounded.
It's how firefighters pay tribute when one of their own has fallen.
One by one Thursday, Polk County firefighters told stories about Lang -- about how they thought he should be remembered.
They remembered him as a big guy -- a tall and tough weightlifter. But they said his girlfriend, Ashley, who sometimes visited him at his fire station, could turn him into a softy.
He was a big eater who could clean out an entire refrigerator without filling a trash can.
He was a hero who made the ultimate sacrifice.
He did not hesitate.