ELIZABETH – More than 1,000 firefighters and law enforcement officers assembled for Monday’s funeral for Elizabeth firefighter Gary Stephens. The 28-year veteran was struck by a fire truck after he responded to an early-morning call on Jan. 2.
Firefighters from around the state dressed in their crisp dark-blue dress uniforms to line South Broad Street by St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Elizabeth for the funeral. A giant American flag hung over South Broad Street, suspended by two fire truck ladders. Members of the Union County Police and Fire Pipes and Drums marched at the beginning and end of the service, which was capped off with a three-gun salute.
Some of Stephens’ fellow firefighters said the “gentle giant” would probably have been embarrassed by the overwhelming turnout for the funeral.
Elizabeth Fire Chief Edward Sisk said Stephens deserved the honor.
“Gary Stephens was the man,” Sisk said during the funeral, which was broadcast through loudspeakers outside the packed church. “The smoke and confusion of his job hid his accomplishments.”
Police have ruled that Stephens’ death was an accident. No charges have been filed against the driver, who is an 18-year department veteran.
A 19-year-old homeless man has been charged with arson and felony murder. He has said that he set the fire to warm himself, police said.
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