A procession of police and emergency vehicles escorted the body of Richie Alford home in northeast Georgia on Sunday. The retired Banks County firefighter, who died saving two swimmers in the Gulf of Mexico last week, was given a hero’s welcome.
Friends and colleagues from multiple agencies escorted Alford and his family from LaGrange to Habersham County. They drove up Interstate 85 to US Highway 441 North near Commerce. From there the procession made the final 22 miles to the McGahee-Griffin and Stewart Funeral Home in Cornelia.
“It was an emotional procession from all the departments and agencies that were present. Very, very warm,” said Jeff Adams, director of Habersham County Emergency Medical Services. “It kind of feels good to bring a brother home.”
Cars stopped and people stood to attention as the procession passed along the route.
The Baldwin Fire Department hung a giant American flag from their ladder truck over the Highway 441 bypass. It blew in the wind as a line of three dozen vehicles escorting Alford’s body passed underneath.
Virginia Webb of Clarkesville was among those who greeted the procession along Highway 365 in Cornelia. She waved an American flag and held up a sign that read “Richie Alford, American Hero.”
Baldwin firefighters lined up to greet the procession down the highway. 441 bypass. (Daniel Purcell/NowHabersham.com)
The Baldwin Fire Department hung this giant flag from their ladder truck. (Daniel Purcell/NowHabersham.com)
The Cornelia and Demorest fire departments raised their ladder trucks to form an arc on Highway 365 in Cornelia. (Jerry Neace/NowHabersham.com)
Virginia Webb of Clarkesville was among those along the procession route paying tribute to fallen firefighter Richie Alford and his family. (Jerry Neace/NowHabersham.com)
The body of retired Banks County fire chief Richie Alford is carried to the funeral home in Cornelia after a 145-mile escorted walk home. (Jerry Neace/NowHabersham.com)
He died helping others
Captain Alford was vacationing in Panama City Beach on June 15 when he stepped in to help two swimmers in distress.
According to the Panama City News Herald, the tide in the Gulf of Mexico was severe. Double red flags were posted along the shoreline, meaning the body of water was closed under threat of a $500 fine. A beach visitor went into the water to help another who was struggling, the Herald reports. Then Alford jumped in to help both of them. The two survived, but not Alford.
“We are devastated and heartbroken,” the Banks County Fire Department posted on social media as they broke the news of his death.
Alford Habersham Glass opened in Cornelia after retiring from the Banks County Fire Department two years ago. His friends mourned the 52-year-old’s death and said he wasn’t just a work colleague: “We’ve lost a friend and a brother.”
The department has organized a fundraiser to support Alford’s family.
Funeral arrangements are expected to be announced sometime this week.