by: Ken Lemon, Elsa Gillis Updated:
BURKE COUNTY, N.C. - Family members and friends gathered Friday to say their goodbyes to a Burke County volunteer firefighter killed in the line of duty.
Randall Stewart is accused of hitting and killing Jason Hensley Sunday as he moved storm debris from a road. Investigators are suspecting Stewart was under the influence.
Hensley's funeral was held at the First Baptist Church of Drexel, south of Main Street in Drexel.
Among those standing at attention as the casket left the church was fellow firefighter Carlos Rodriguez, who trained with Hensley.
"Last class we had together was ladder class and when it was my turn to come up the ladder for my training, Jason, if it wasn't for him, he told me, 'Get up there, don't be afraid, I got you brother, I'm not going to let you fall,'” Rodriguez said.
A funeral procession went from the church to Hensley's final resting place. It paused in front of the Triple Community Fire Department in Morganton for a final salute.
"I just wanted it to be a dream,” Rodriguez said. “I just wanted to wake up and...it was just a big dream, and I was going to see him again."
Members of Sherrills Ford and Granite Falls fire departments are providing fire coverage so members of the Triple Community Fire Department can attend the funeral.
Hensley was surrounded by loved ones and first responders from across the state.
"It's a brotherhood,” Drexel police Chief Craig Treadway said. “Firefighter, law enforcement, EMS, any emergency personnel, we think of each other as family.
The devastating reality of the death of Hensley began to sink as people packed into Drexel First Baptist Church.
"He was a fine, outstanding gentlemen, very polite, just very sad,” Treadway said.
"He would make you laugh, and he just, he had a big heart. Jason, he was fearless,” Rodriguez said.
Hensley had just joined the Triple Community Fire Department in March when his son decided he wanted to be a junior firefighter.
Their lockers were right next to each other's, but now Hensley's locker is now empty. Loved ones told Channel 9 the locker will remain empty in Hensley's honor as long as the department keeps lockers.
Even in that short time, his friends said his passion and dedication shined.
"I didn't want today to be real, but I had to, I had to be brave and know that it is real,” Rodriguez said. “I had to do it, I had to be there for him, like he was for me."
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