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Asheville fire captain and training officer remembered for his empathy, love of the job

By Jennifer Emert

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    WEAVERVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — Firefighters and family paused Monday to remember the life and service of Asheville Fire Captain and Training Officer Jeff Lyons. The funeral was held at West Family Funeral Services in Weaverville.

Lyons had served the community for 26 years as an Asheville firefighter. His line of duty death from cancer is Asheville’s fourth since February 2018, along with the cancer-related deaths of three retirees.

Monday’s service was held in the shadow of two Asheville’s ladder trucks and the flag. It was a somber reminder as the final alert sounded.

“Our brother Jeff Lyons has completed his tasks and a duty well done, Asheville Fire clear 15:29,” came the call over the Asheville Fire Department’s dispatch radio during Monday’s service.

It was a stark reminder of the risks Lyons and all firefighters face. Firefighting is a career in which cancer is now the No. 1 cause of death.

“His passing really is just a tremendous amount of loss for our community,” Asheville Fire Chief Scott Burnette said.

Lyons was diagnosed this summer and began cancer treatment several months ago.

Monday’s ceremony was a celebration of Lyons’ service as a firefighter, but he also served in the United States Army and the Air Force. Lyons’ son Mead shared touching lessons from his father.

“He’d go on about hard work, about commitment, about empathy, about patience, about service to others and just the unconditional love that he showed me,” Mead said in a tribute to his father.

While firefighters recognized Lyons for stepping back from his role as a battalion chief, opting for the position of a safety and training officer, which put him closer to firefighters. Many firefighters said Lyons would have given them the shirt off his back and he was always willing to help other firefighters.

“His very last shift, he was training our firefighters on how to be better firefighters,” Burnette said.

While the officers in attendance chuckled at stories about Lyons’ physical strength and zest for the job, they also spoke about how Lyons is continuing to look after firefighters even today.

“In lieu of flowers, Jeff made the push for donations to go to cancer screenings, so someone could have a better chance than he did fighting this terrible disease. That was Jeff, constantly looking out for other people,” said Captain Scott Mullins, Asheville Association of Firefighters Local 332 president.

Part of Lyons’ funeral was the tolling of the bell — a more than 200-year tradition.

“When a firefighter dies in the line of duty, paying the supreme sacrifice, it is the morning toll of the bell that precedes the announcement that a firefighter has died,” Burnette said.

Along with taps and bagpipes, full firefighter and military honors were bestowed on Lyons, remembered as someone with a lot of love for his job, the outdoors, his family and the community.

“He had so much energy and he put it toward the things he was passionate about, serving his community, his country, but most of all his family,” said Raynor Andrulewich, a firefighter serving at Asheville Fire Station 9 with Lyons for five years.

Lyons’ name will be added to the International Association of Firefighter’s Fallen Fire Fighter Wall of Honor in Colorado Springs next year. His family was also presented with the Martin E. Pierce Medal. The medal is given to those firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their community.

You can find information on how to donate to Asheville Fire Fighter Association’s cancer screening at its website.

Lyons was 61 years old.

News 13 talked with Lyons about his recent cancer battle and the fight to keep firefighters healthy. You can watch the October story “NC firefighters to sue over protective gear, warning ‘stay out of it as much as possible'”

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