CONOVER, N.C. — The body of a beloved firefighter was escorted to a funeral home in Conover early Wednesday morning.
Sherrills Ford-Terrell firefighter Capt. Bradley Long died Monday while searching for a missing swimmer in Lake Norman.
The funeral for Long will be 11 a.m. Saturday at Mt. View Baptist Church in Maiden, according to Bennett Funeral Service. A visitation will be from 4 until 9 p.m. Friday at the church.
Channel 9 could see mothers and young children along with firefighters saluting as the procession traveled down Interstate 40.
"He made the sacrifice and he is going to be so missed by the whole community," said Katie Adcox, who has known Long since they were in kindergarten together.
Long made an impression on Christie Burgess and her stepson just last week when he gave the 3-year-old a junior fire hat.
"I think everyone needs to stop and pay their respect to this man because he was a hero," she said. "He's a hero in a lot of people's eyes."
Several agencies, along with Long's family, met at Tri-City Baptist Church in Conover around 8 a.m., and the procession to bring Long back began at 8:30 a.m.
It traveled to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and back, along Interstate 40 west to the Bennett Funeral Home in Conover.
Dozens of fire department trucks and police and sheriff deputies took part in the escort.
The Statesville Fire Department set up on an I-40 overpass, displaying an American flag, and many others gathered on other bridges over the interstate to show their respect as well.
"Really big heart," friend Butch Danforth said. "The kid is just a big teddy bear. Just an awesome person. Would help anyone at anytime at anything."
Long’s father, Jerry, shared a message before the procession for anyone who wants to honor his son.
Read past coverage on Bradley Long:
- Father of fallen fire rescue diver: 'My son loved helping people'
- Community mourns loss of Newton firefighter Bradley Long
- Social media updates: Community mourns fallen fire rescue diver
- Retired Pineville fire truck to help Sherrills Ford after similar tragedy
First responders gathered to say a prayer before the procession began and Capt. Long's father said families should bring their kids by fire departments to thank the real heroes.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding Long's death. On Monday, Long and two other divers were trying to find missing swimmer Isiah Cruz’s body in Lake Norman when something went wrong.
The Iredell County Sheriff's Office is investigating what happened under the water. Investigators will look at whether Long had a health issue or if his equipment failed.
They will also be interviewing the other divers who were with Long that day.
A professional diving instructor couldn't speculate on what happened, but did say the industry is safe and the equipment works well.
“The regulators and things that we have today are so good that they're almost to the point that they're too good,” said Hal Weill. “People get complacent with the gear and forget that they're underwater.”
The investigation into Long's death could take months.
Channel 9 has been told that a special branch of the CDC which investigates fires has also been called in to help.
In the meantime, the community has been delivering flowers to the base of the station’s flag, now flying at half-staff.
Capt. Long worked as a firefighter in some capacity since he was 16 years old. Since his death, Channel 9 has spoken with several people across the community whose lives he touched.
Earlier this year, when a major waterline in Newton broke, Long, along with other firefighters, delivered water to the elderly.
"Kind, beautiful personality, and a people person,” recalled Ruby Blake. “He's the kind of person that will be missed and I wish there were more Bradley Long's in the world."
In April, the local Elks Club in Newton recognized Long as firefighter of the year.
You can also leave your thoughts and prayers for Long's family and his fellow firefighters Channel 9's Facebook page.