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Procession escorts body of fallen firefighter

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The Roswell Fire Department and the community wait for the procession in honor of RFD fire apparatus operator Jeff Stroble, who was injured in a fireworks explosion on June 5 and passed away on July 21. Firefighters, law enforcement, citizens and city of Roswell department staffs lined South Main Street on Monday afternoon in sunshine and rain to show their support. (Alison Penn Photo)

People from Roswell and beyond lined South Main Street late Monday afternoon to pay their respects to a fallen firefighter returning home for the last time.

Jeff Stroble (Submitted Photo)

Firefighters and law enforcement officers escorted the body of Jeff Stroble, 46, of Roswell, from the Roswell International Air Center to the Anderson-Bethany Funeral Home and Crematory in the 2000 block of South Main Street Monday afternoon. Funeral arrangements had not yet been announced at press time.

Stroble, a fire apparatus operator with the department for 17 years, died Sunday in Lubbock, Texas, where he had been receiving treatment for burns and other injuries he sustained in a June 5 explosion while on duty, according to a press release issued by the city.

“On behalf of the city of Roswell, our thoughts, prayers and our deepest condolences are with his family and the entire Roswell Fire Department,” the press release states.

The plane carrying Stroble’s body landed at 4:30 p.m. At the invitation of the city, people lined the section of South Main Street that made up the procession route, some with tears in their eyes and hands on their hearts.

A large American flag hung from the ladder of the Roswell Fire Department’s Engine 1, as citizens held smaller flags. The city sent out a memo earlier in the day for all flags outside public city buildings to be flown at half-staff until Stroble’s funeral. Private businesses and individuals were urged to do the same.

For nearly two months, Stroble was fighting to recover from injuries he received in an explosion on property west of the Roswell International Air Center. Stroble and other fire department personnel were preparing fireworks for the city’s annual Fourth of July celebration when an explosion occurred.

The cause of the explosion is not yet known and remains under investigation, according to the New Mexico State Police.

Stroble and Robert “Hoby” Bonham, 36, of Roswell — an 18-year firefighter with the department — suffered serious burns and injuries in the explosion. Both men were subsequently airlifted to a hospital in Lubbock.

Ten other firefighters received treatment for what were determined to be minor injuries, and were released from a local hospital after being checked out by medical professionals.

In late June, Bonham was released from the hospital in Lubbock, but Stroble’s condition was much more precarious.

At a June 12 city council meeting, Fire Chief Devin Graham said Stroble was experiencing potentially “catastrophic complications.”

As Jeff Stroble battled for his life in his hospital bed, his recovery was on the minds of many, especially in the Roswell area and among firefighters.

At least three vigils were held where attendees prayed and voiced hope for Stroble and Bonham’s recovery, including one gathering that took place the evening of June 5, just hours after the explosion.

Fundraisers were held and contributions were made to help cover the costs of Stroble and Bonham’s care. An account was opened at Pioneer Bank, to which donations could be made for both the Strobles and Bonhams.

As of July 16, $125,175.28 in donations had been made to the account, according to a graphic posted on Pioneer Bank’s Facebook page. A post made on the Facebook page Monday evening stated the bank would still accept donations for the Stroble and Bonham families, however a separate account has been opened exclusively for the Stroble family.

People who want to contribute to either account are urged to visit any Pioneer Bank branch for more information.

Soon after news broke of Stroble’s death Sunday, local residents, businesses and organizations expressed their grief on social media. In a post on the official Facebook page of the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Mike Herrington offered his condolences to the Stroble family.

“May God give you peace and the strength to carry on in life knowing Jeff is in Heaven with Jesus. I also offer you our assistance with anything you might need,” he wrote.

Many people on Facebook posted a rendering of a Roswell Fire Department badge, with the hashtag #RoswellFireStrong on it, to express their grief.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.