More than 2,500 people, including hundreds of firefighters from across South Carolina, attended this afternoon’s funeral for fallen Columbia-Richland firefighter Chance Zobel.
“We came to pay our respects to our fallen brother,” said Myrtle Beach fire department Lt. Jim Phalen, who drove to Columbia with 17 other firefighters from that resort city.
Phalen’s van was just one of the more than 100 firefighter trucks, vans and emergency vehicles that formed the 20-plus mile funeral procession to Shady Grove United Methodist Church from Shandon Baptist Church on Forest Drive.
Near the front of the procession was a vintage Columbia fire department truck, draped in black bunting and with a bouquet of red flowers at the front. It bore Zobel’s American flag-draped casket.
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Zobel, 23, of Irmo, was killed Saturday in a traffic incident while fighting a median brush fire on I-20 near the Clemson Road exit. The incident is still under investigation by the S.C. Highway Patrol.
Neida Ortega, the driver who the S.C. Highway Patrol alleges caused the accident by driving too fast for conditions, was taken into custody Tuesday and later released by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Ortega, of Sumter, is a Mexican national who is in the U.S. illegally and is now slated to be deported, patrol officials said.
“When a man becomes a fireman, his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished,” said Columbia-Richland fire department interim Chief Aubrey Jenkins to reporters before the service. “What he does after that is all in the line of duty.”
The firefighter’s pledge, said Jenkins, is to “fiercely help those in need with no concern for our own personal safety. Chance Zobel took that pledge Our hearts are heavy today, but also proud.” Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.