By Jamie Thompson
CAMDEN, N.J. — Members of the fire department lined the entrance of the church as the coffin of Jacob Rosa was brought in.
After the funeral service was completed, they carried the flag-draped coffin outside where more firefighters saluted.
It was a poignant farewell in the finest firefighter tradition. But Jacob was only 9-years-old — and had only been made an honorary junior member of the Camden, N.J., Fire Department just a few weeks before his death from cancer.
"This is a brotherhood and this young man was one of our brothers," Engine Company 6 Firefighter Pete Perez said.
"We made him a firefighter, so when he passed away we had to treat him like one."
Jacob was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma at the start of 2006. A mutual friend of the family told Firefighter Perez of the youngster's love of firefighters, and the bond between them began.
Firefighter Perez stayed in regular touch with the family, with Engine 6 taking Jacob for short rides and bringing him T-Shirts and hats to try to keep his spirits up.
"At one point, he seemed to be doing well and he was back to school, but earlier this year things took a turn for the worse," Firefighter Perez said.
With Jacob's health failing, Firefighter Perez helped to arrange for Jacob to become an honorary junior member of Engine 6 at the start of the month, allowing him to realize his dream of becoming a firefighter.
"It ended up becoming a proper ceremony for him," Firefighter Perez said.
"He was in a lot of the pain at the time, but as he was sworn in he was still smiling.
Photo courtesy of David Cruz/Pontealdia.com
Firefighter Perez (third right) helps host a firehouse visit for Jacob during better times.
"It was so touching to be able to help Jacob and his family in any small way we could as they knew Jacob was dying."
Jacob passed away at his home on Tuesday. In the previous month, the family had also lost two other close members.
Firefighter Perez stepped forward when the family was at their lowest ebb, with Engine 6 taking charge of covering the costs for Saturday's funeral and helping to arrange it.
"A lot of members have children and could see what the family would've been going through," he said.
"Also for me, the fire department isn't just about fighting fires — it's about being part of the community and serving it.
"This young man was one of the bravest people I had ever met — and for someone that works with some of the bravest people around, that says something."