EFFINGHAM COUNTY, GA (WTOC) - Effingham County welcomed home a fallen firefighter Tuesday afternoon.
Effingham County Battalion Chief Matt Kicklighter died of natural causes over the weekend in Daytona Beach, FL, where officials say he was attending a fire and rescue conference.
The rain felt very fitting during the procession. First responders from across the county and community members watched along Highway 21 where Kicklighter came back into the county.
Effingham Fire and EMS, the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office, Rincon Fire, Guyton Fire, and the Rincon Police Department all helped with the processional.
“I’m sure he’s looking down on us saying, ‘why are y’all doing all this,’ because he was just a humble guy,” said family friend, Shania Williams. “It just means a lot to come out and celebrate his life and everything because he meant so much to us.”
According to his obituary, Kicklighter was a firefighter with the Effingham Fire Department and Springfield Fire Department. He was just 45-years-old.
The Effingham County Fire Chief says the loss has left a hole in the department.
“With Fire Services, it’s more than just coworkers; it’s family,” Chief Clint Hodges said. “Matt wad a brother to all of us.”
Chief Hodges says his department is trying to hold each other up.
“To lose someone suddenly like this, especially who is so close to all of us, it’s difficult on everybody,” he said.
Statewide agencies paid their respects as well.
“Public Works agencies were out on the side of the road in support. The public was everywhere. I think that’s a testament to how many people he touched within the community.” Hodges said.
Hodges says Kicklighter was much bigger than Effingham Fire and Rescue. He was a special part of the community.
“If I was in the fire department, I would want him to be my partner,” Williams said. “He would give anything and everything for the person standing next to him.”
Kicklighter was named Officer of the Year by Effingham Fire in 2018. Hodges says he was the glue holding everyone together when Springfield Fire merged with Effingham Fire and Rescue.
“I don’t think there’s anyone that met Matt that isn’t better for it.”
The chief says local agencies like Bryan County will be helping out with manpower on Friday so everyone can attend the funeral.