FORSYTH, Ga. — Friday, Georgia firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty were honored at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth during the 25th annual Georgia Fallen Firefighter Memorial Ceremony.
It was held in remembrance of firefighters and EMTs who lost their lives while serving.
Fire departments from all across the state came together to honor the 16 men.
Their names were added to a memorial wall, and their families received a plaque and a medal from the GPSTC.
One of those men was from Central Georgia.
His name was Harold Boone. He served the Central Georgia community as a firefighter for nearly 30 years -- 25 years in Macon-Bibb County and 4 in Monroe County.
Boone died in November 2020 after catching COVID-19 on the job.
"He made the ultimate sacrifice for the people of Monroe County," says Battalion Chief Clay Walton.
They worked together for several years. Clayton says Boone was his first driving operator for one of the firetrucks he worked on.
"If I was getting ready to mess up, he'd warn me right off the rip, 'Probably wouldn't do that,'" Walton says.
Walton says Boone was always willing to train and help out, and they quickly became family.
Boone passed away in 2020 after catching COVID-19 on the job.
Walton says that while they train to prepare for pandemics, COVID was taxing.
"Me and another individual actually caught the virus at the same time as Harold," says Walton.
He says, at first, things were fine. He says he and Boone were texting back and forth and trying foods in their fridge to see what they could still taste.
Then, 48 hours later, Boone went to the hospital.
"Harold said it was getting the best of him," says Walton.
Despite the message, Walton says they were certain that he would beat the virus. He described him as "fit, energetic, and persistent," so his passing was devastating.
"We're always there for each other, so not being able to be there with him in the hospital or with his family in the hospital was a very difficult time for us," he adds.
Now, they remember Boone as a mentor and someone always trying to make others laugh.
"He would spend an exuberant amount of time taking care of the younger people of our department, building them up to the best of his ability so that he would leave a legacy on the fire service," says Walton.
Walton says that's exactly what he did.
He says he sees things in the station that remind him of Boone daily, and seeing his granddaughter brought back memories.
"She would call every night, and in the sweetest voice you could ever think of was, 'Is Mr. Harold there?' After he had passed away, not hearing that, not getting that phone call, well, I felt like I was family. I expected that call every night as if it was from my own kid," says Walton.
We did speak to the Boone family. His mother Hattie and wife Sharon said the ceremony was very emotional for them, but they said they were grateful that he was honored. They were also appreciative of to have the department and each other.
Walton says he appreciates the sacrifice of the Boone family.
He adds, "I hope that our agency never gets in this situation again and I hope that we never have to add another name to the wall. I hope that no agency in the state of Georgia has to do that either."
The National Fire Protection Association says around 140 firefighters nationwide died in 2020 and 2021 from catching COVID on the job.
They say that's the leading cause of death among first responders nationwide.