(WBIR - Whitley City, KY) Firefighters in the small community of Whitley City, Kentucky, just a few miles north of the Tennessee border, say the local high school is the biggest gathering place in town.
Fitting, for the scores of people to say goodbye to firefighter Lt. Arlie Hill.
"That's the only place big enough to hold a crowd. There's not a church big enough for what we're anticipating," said family friend Hap Strunk, who helped organize Lt. Hill's funeral.
Lt. Hill died Sunday after he spent weeks in an Ohio hospital, recovering from burns to 90-percent of his body. He was off duty on August 31 when he and another off duty firefighter noticed a fire in their neighborhood. They believed a little girl was trapped inside, but turned out no one was inside. Lt.. Hill became trapped by the flames, and was rescued by his colleague.
"He was a one of a kind guy... a one of a kind guy..." Strunk added.
Firefighters, far from outside the small station in McCreary County, came to the local high school to pay their respects this Saturday. Lt. Hill worked for the fire department for 14 years.
"A firm believer and strong family ties – he showed that. We honor that first, then we honor his dedication to the fire service," said Whitley City chief Tony Miller.
Marching Firefighters -- from different departments from multiple states -- all walked together on Kentucky Route 27 for one purpose: to say 'thank you' to Lt. Hill.
"A lot of folks don't understand, fire service is one big family, no matter where you go. and we keep saying that daily," said Ronnie Day with the Kentucky Fire Commission.
Whitley City fire Chief Miller said the loss has been difficult for so many, both to comprehend and to move forward.
"First of all healing takes time," the chief said. "The events of August 31st was a tragedy – nothing more. There's no fault; Lt Hill's actions was commendable."
Lt. Hill leaves behind a wife and two children. He was 37 years old.