A fire chief’s final call

Hundreds said goodbye to John William Thomas as his casket was brought to the cemetery atop his first fire truck
Monday, February 14, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:33 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

ASHLAND — The former chief of the Southern Boone County Fire Protection District received full fire department honors at his funeral at Ashland Baptist Church on Sunday. John William Thomas died Thursday of cancer.

Fire trucks and ambulances draped with black cloth in the front and on the ladders lined the street. Hanging against a cold gray sky from two Columbia Fire Department ladder trucks was a 30-foot-by-60-foot flag.

Representatives from fire departments in Columbia, Cooper County, Holts Summit, Lake Ozark, Jefferson City and Boone County attended the service along with family, friends and others from the community. Hundreds came to pay tribute to a man who was described by George Zimny, chairman of the Southern Boone County Fire Protection District, as selfless and humble.

Before the service began, Thomas’ fire helmet was laid on his casket. Old metal fire truck toys were arranged in front. Two firemen stood guard. On behalf of the family, friends and colleagues shared stories that they thought best honored Thomas’ life. The Revs. Chris Sanders and Don Snyder conducted the service and spoke of the times they had spent with Thomas.

Pallbearers placed and secured Thomas’ casket on top of Southern Boone County Fire Truck 1801, the first truck he brought to the district. Leading the funeral procession, the truck brought Thomas to his resting place at Friedens Cemetery in his hometown of Hartsburg.

“He was one of the first people we met when we moved to Hartsburg,” said resident Teresa Sch-motzhauer. “When he was around, you felt you were the most important person there.”

In the rain-soaked valley, among twisted old trees, the Boone County Fire District Pipes and Drums played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes to a crowd of hundreds.

A firehouse sign knocked down by a driver in the recent snowstorm lay on the side of the road in front of the cemetery. Childhood friend Kevin Nahler placed the sign in the ground by Thomas’ gravesite after the burial service.

“It’s fitting,” Nahler said.

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