Family of fallen firefighter speaks after Yarnell Hill fire tragedy

Posted at 5:15 PM, Jul 02, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-02 19:15:09-04

CEDAR CITY, Utah – Sunday’s tragedy marks the largest loss of American firefighters in a single event since the attacks on 9/11, and one of those fallen heroes is from Cedar City Utah.

The 19 firefighters were part of an elite squad of firefighters with the Prescott Fire Department, and they were killed while battling the Yarnell Hill fire.

Joe Thurston, 32, was one of those lost to the fire, and the married father of two is from Cedar City and is a Southern Utah University graduate.

Thurston’s mother, Gay Marie Ekker, was in Arizona this week meeting with other firefighter’s families, but she took time to speak to FOX 13 News about her son over the phone.

“Of course as a mother it has, my greatest fear has come true," she said. "He told me one time when I was, you know, really pressing him about finding a different job he said, ‘Oh mom, somebody's always got your back.’”

Cedar City Firefighter Derek Shirley said Thurston’s death has been felt by many. He said he didn’t know Thurston personally, but he said firefighters are all like family.

“It's a brotherhood,” he said. “It doesn't matter if you're from across the country or the next town over, I mean a firefighter is a firefighter.”

Shirley said Thurston was part of a Hotshot crew, which means he was among the best.

“They're the elite of the wildland side, very tight-knit, hardworking,” he said.

Shirley isn’t the only firefighter honoring Thurston and the other 18 lost Sunday. Fire station 1 in Salt Lake City lowered their flag to half-staff in their honor, and so did another station in Sugar House.

Thurston's family released a statement Tuesday, which can read in its entirety below.

"Joe Thurston, loving father of 2 and devoted husband of 11 years who found joy in all he did.  Native of Cedar City Utah, born in 1981, and graduated from Cedar High School, class of “99”. He will be remembered for his bravery and selflessness.  A Firefighter and EMT since 2008, Joe was enthusiastic about his work and very service oriented. He was energetic, compassionate, determined, loving, funny, hard working and extremely kind.  Joe managed to be wildly fun to be around, always rallying the group to  the next adventure. He was the type of guy whose smile filled the room.  Dependability and decency radiated from him even at a very young age.  A devoted family man, he could always be found at the baseball field or on the floor playing with his kids.  Head over heels for his high school sweetheart and wife of eleven years, Marsena, Joe used everyday as a new opportunity to show his love and support. Joe will be missed and will FOREVER be our Hero."