Roswell was in mourning Friday, as first responders throughout the state joined with friends, family and strangers to say goodbye to local firefighter Jeff Stroble during a memorial ceremony and procession.
A 17-year fire apparatus operator with the Roswell Fire Department, Stroble, 46, died Sunday at University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas, where he had been recovering from injuries he received in a June 5 explosion south of Roswell while in the line of duty.
Stroble and other department personnel were handling fireworks in preparation for the annual Fourth of July celebration when the building they were in at the time exploded.
According to Juanita Jennings, public affairs director with the city of Roswell, about 1,500 people showed up for a standing room only memorial service at the Roswell Convention & Civic Center.
“He was willing to sacrifice every day that he came to work as a fireman,” Devin Graham, chief of the Roswell Fire Department said while speaking at the ceremony.
Earlier in the day, Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh said he expected there would be a lot of emotion at the service.
“There will be some times when I think some normally very strong individuals will crack with emotion,” he said.
Stroble’s former colleagues at the Roswell Fire Department stood alongside throngs of firefighters and law enforcement officers all dressed in uniforms from departments throughout New Mexico.
Mike Herrington, Chaves County Sheriff, was among those in attendance. He said the presence by those who wear a badge shows that they are all united.
“I think the turnout that you see, not only from Chaves County but from all over the state is a direct reflection of how much each person believes they are part of this team,” Herrington said.
Graham told the audience that Stroble was more than a firefighter, that he was a loving husband, father, son, son-in-law, brother and an ardent fan of the Dallas Cowboys — something evident by the large number of people present wearing jerseys of the football team.
“It’s as important to remember him for his life as it is to remember him as a fireman,” Graham said.
A slideshow featuring images of Stroble from his childhood and throughout his life was also shown.
Gerry Chavez, pastor at Christ Church in Roswell, which Stroble attended, was the main speaker at the memorial service, and remembered Stroble for his character and generosity.
“He was friendly, he had a laugh everyone knew,” Chavez said. “He would have given the shirt off his back for anyone.”
A husband and father of three, he was also remembered for his love of his family, especially Reba, his wife of 15 years.
“She was his best friend,” Chavez said. “He couldn’t wait to see her when he came home at the end of the day, right after he saw his dogs.”
Chavez also praised the outpouring of support for Stroble and his family after he had been injured, including fundraisers and prayer vigils.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” Chavez said.
A procession of first responders from across the state followed the memorial as they escorted Stroble’s body along a route that ran south on Richardson Avenue. Roswell Fire Department Engine 6 led the procession followed by a “hearse fire truck” — a fire truck draped in black — along with an honor guard and the Stroble Family.
The procession halted in front of Roswell Fire Department Station One on South Richardson Avenue, pausing for 192 seconds, a tribute to Stroble’s Department helmet number 192. The procession then resumed, continuing east on West Alameda Street and then south on Main Street before reaching South Park Cemetery.
Many onlookers, some in traffic, others standing along the parade, stood, some waving American flags in tribute to Stroble, a man that some of them never knew in life.
Johnny and Laurie Heatwole each said they never knew Stroble, but they came out and stood outside their house on North Richardson Avenue to bid farewell to him.
“We’re here to pay our last respects to him,” Johnny Heatwole said.
Bobby Baldock, a United States Circuit Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit and a Roswell resident, was among a group observing the procession outside the Federal Courthouse on Richardson Avenue.
“To the family, we extend our sorrow; he was a brave man,” Baldock said of Stroble.
Firetrucks and other emergency vehicles crowded South Park Cemetery, as Stroble was laid to rest in a graveside service, with a traditional firefighter ceremony and honors, such as the sounding of a bell, meant to signal the death of a firefighter in the line of duty.
As mourners stood by his casket at the burial ceremony, the last call for Stroble broadcast on the county’s emergency scanner, calling for RFD Jeff Stroble.
“Fire apparatus operator Jeff Stroble began his watch with the Roswell Fire Department on May 8, 2002. He died on July 21, 2019 and was called home to be with his lord. On behalf of the Roswell Fire Department, it is with great sadness and sorrow that we report that after 17 years of heroism, bravery and service, Jeff Stroble has completed and answered his final alarm,” the dispatcher’s voice stated.
“We’ve got it from here, Jeff,” the dispatcher said before falling silent.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.