50 years later: Vicksburg remembers fallen firefighters with memorial service

Published 4:46 pm Wednesday, July 3, 2024

The lives of four Vicksburg firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice half a century ago were celebrated Wednesday morning through a special service at Vicksburg Fire Station No. 2. 

Vicksburg Fire Chief Derrick Stamps said the now-infamous incident that began as a reported grass fire 50 years ago took the lives of Vicksburg Fire Department’s (VFD) Capt. John Krueger, Lt. David Lewis and Lt. John McBroom. A fourth firefighter, Pvt. Jimmy Gibbs, was severely injured, but lived another 38 years before passing away due to complications from his injuries.

“Some have given much, but these men gave it all,” Bishop John Williams said during Wednesday’s service. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. We salute them and their honorable families; first responders with first-class courage.”

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Stamps said it was July 3, 1974 when the four firefighters responded to a call at Paul Pride Butane Company, initially thinking it was a grass fire near a butane tank. They soon discovered a butane leak, with approximately 15,000 gallons of butane “blanketing the ground in a fog-like cloud.” The butane cloud ignited from an unknown spark, he said, leading to a truck bursting into flames. 

“Today we gather to commemorate a solemn milestone in our city’s history,” Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said Wednesday. “This tragic accident claimed the lives of three courageous firefighters – Capt. John Krueger, Lt. David Lewis, and Lt. John McBroom – and left firefighter Jimmy Gibbs seriously injured. They made the ultimate sacrifice with courageous valor to protect our community.”

Members of all four families were in attendance for Wednesday’s service and spoke briefly about the days following the fire, their memories of their loved ones, and the marks the losses have left on their families and the Vicksburg community as a whole.

Surrounded by family members, an emotional Cynthia Lewis Scott – daughter of David Lewis – said Wednesday’s service was a reminder of what is important in life.

“When I was about 15, I wrote a poem about my father,” she said. “He is buried at the Lewis cemetery by our house and I used to go there and sit by his grave and just talk to him. I said, ‘Daddy. You have gone to a place beyond my reach, but your love still has a hold on me.’”

Those in attendance for Wednesday’s service gathered for refreshments following remarks and Stamps’ ceremonial ringing of the bell in honor of the fallen firefighters.

“To the families, we extend our heartfelt condolences to you,” Flaggs said. “Your loss is our loss.”