Charlean Mosley, the mother of Jalen Smith, a Jackson Heights volunteer firefighter, said she takes comfort in knowing her son died doing what he loved.
“He wanted to be a firefighter since he was 3. It's all he talked about,” she said. “It was his passion, and I am super proud of him.”
Jackson Heights Fire Chief Terence Thompson said Smith was unanimously selected to receive the department's Fireman of the Year Award weeks before his death. The award will be presented posthumously today during funeral services.
Smith was with the department since September 2011 and scheduled to attend Kilgore Fire Academy in 2013 to become a certified firefighter, Thompson said.
Thompson said Smith's grandfather was a founding member of the Jackson Heights Volunteer Fire Department.
“It's tough,” he said. “I've been here since 1988, and this is our first loss. To lose somebody like Jalen is hard to take. When they say 'above and beyond the call of duty,' that was Jalen.”
Ms. Mosley said she bought Smith a battery-powered fire truck with the typical lights and sirens when he was 3 years old. She had to take the batteries out within a few hours because of the noise, she said, laughing.
Smith will receive a traditional firefighter funeral service today beginning with a public viewing from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. The official service will begin at 1 p.m. at Green Acres Baptist Church chapel, 1607 Troup Highway in Tyler.
Officials are expecting a large funeral procession with numerous emergency vehicles to be in the procession, which is expected to leave between 2:30 and 3 p.m. Saturday.
The procession will start on Fifth Street in Tyler, which changes to Texas Highway 64 East, through New Chapel Hill and the Arp area, to the Ashbury Cemetery in Overton.
Officials expect traffic delays along the procession route.
A memorial fund has been set up at Austin Bank on Smith's behalf. Donations may be made at any location under the name Jackson Heights Volunteer Fire Department account for Jalen Smith.
Ms. Mosley said the mixture of grief and pride for her son is a difficult emotion to explain and carry.
“My first thought was, 'My baby's gone,'” she said. “But Jalen was doing what he was supposed to do.”