Honor Guard stands watch for fallen firefighters

Retired firefighter Lt. Pete Huffman remembered
Posted at 5:02 PM, Aug 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-16 17:51:53-04

A final farewell was offered Tuesday for a beloved firefighter who lost his battle with cancer. Pete Huffman worked in the fire service 35 years and was a fire instructor at St. Pete College. He spent the last year of his life fighting for legislation that would guarantee benefits to all firefighters that get sick possible from exposure to toxic chemicals on the job.

During his funeral procession, every fire department in Pinellas county took part, along with hundreds of family, friends and students. Inside the huge line of first responders, there was a special group paying tribute to the fallen hero -- the Honor Guard.

You often hear the fire service is a brotherhood, and that deep bond is never more clear than when a brother is lost.

Pete Huffman dedicated his life to being a firefighter over three decades with several departments in Pinellas County.

"There was always kindness. There was always respect. And while he was getting the job done in the heat of the moment, a lot of people aren't able to do that, and he was," said Lt. Keri Pettingill with Largo Fire Rescue and the Honor Guard.

So it's no surprise that more than 500 firefighters came to pay respects during Lt. Huffman's funeral.

But within this brotherhood, there's an even closer knit family. It's known as the Honor Guard. They do things they never learned in fire school, like planning memorial services and lending emotional support to families in the hour of need, both close to home and around the country.

"Realistically, none of these guys, this is not part of their job descriptions. This is something they do completely on their own," said Jeff Patterson, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief of Special Operations.

As part of that service, the Honor Guard will even stand watch, 24 hours a day, with a fallen firefighter.

"We don't want to have him be alone until he's interred," said Lt. Pettingill.

There is no paycheck for what they Honor Guard does, and they don't want one. The hugs and gratitude from families of the fallen are all the thanks they need.

"It's just important, especially in the day and age we're in, that we need to have a support system, and we need to relay that to everybody -- civilians alike -- because we need to come together as a country. And if I can have a little part in that, that's where my calling is," Lt. Pettingill said.

It's a mission that continues long after each final call goes out.

"Roll call has been taken. Lt. Huffman has failed to take the call. The bell has been struck for his last alarm. May you rest in peace. We'll take it from here, Pete," dispatchers said during Huffman's final call.