NORTH PORT, Fla. -- A North Port firefighter will be put to rest Tuesday. But Monday, Lt. Jeff Newland was remembered with a procession through the city. His sudden passing is being considered a line of duty death.
Fellow firefighters and paramedics from all over the Suncoast descended on North Port to remember Lt. Newland. "We wanted to pay our respects to the family by having a motorcade through the community visiting the fire stations he served," said Chief Bill Taaffe of North Port Fire & EMS.
At 50 years old, the 14-year veteran of the North Port Fire Department died suddenly on April 23rd of an aortic aneurysm.
Chief Taaffe says it happened after his last call. "It is being considered a line of duty death. He died of a heart condition shortly after leaving shift; after his last emergency run just a few hours before."
The procession was a mile long; a touching tribute for the man who also put 20 years into the military.
He leaves behind significant other Beverly Ward, six-year old son Clayton, and17-year-old stepson Colton. “Jeff was the guy that always wanted everyone to do better. No matter if you were picking up the trash or if you were the lieutenant. His goal in life was for everybody to just do their best," said Ward.
With his ashes and gear buckled into the front seat, the truck moved through town. Residents, city workers, and fellow firefighters paid their respects.
"The thing about a fire department is it's a family. We spend exactly one third of our entire life living and working together. It's a little different than other jobs," says Chief Taaffe.
"The public support has been very comforting to our family," said Ward.
And for 6-year-old Clayton, one last ride with dad in the rig he rode to help so many others.
“His son asked to ride on the fire truck with his dad's ashes. That is very traditional," said Taaffe.
"Teary eyed. It was sweet to watch. It makes it easier with him to have people he knew and people daddy worked with embrace him and make him feel special even though daddy isn't here," said Ward.
Lt. Newland is considered the 37th firefighter nationally so far this year to pass away from something which may have been related to their service.
A formal memorial service will be held for Newland Tuesday at 1pm in Fort Myers.