LITTLETON — On Friday, some 400 people, among them 150 firefighters from across the North Country, New Hampshire, New England and other states, turned out to pay their respects to retired Littleton Fire Rescue Capt. Jeff Whitcomb, who died Oct. 2.
En route to the New St Rose of Lima Cemetery from the St. Rose of Lima Church, a procession of marching firefighters behind a police cruiser and leading fire engines, with Whitcomb on one engine, and behind the fire apparatus, Whitcomb’s family members and friends, made its way along Main Street, which was shut down as they passed.
Along the street, residents stood silently, paying their respects to Whitcomb, a Littleton native and 24-year veteran of Littleton Fire Rescue.
Whitcomb, who was an active instructor with the state fire academy at the time of his death, was transported to the cemetery on New Hampshire Fire Academy Engine 3.
He died at Concord Hospital after a brief illness, at the age of 53.
Whitcomb’s firefighting colleagues came from all over, said LFR Chief Michael McQuillen.
“St. Johnsbury was there, we had every department around us from the Notch down to Campton, Thornton, all the way to Lancaster and over to Woodsville for those departments,” he said. “A good friend of the family, a firefighter from Jacksonville, Florida, was there. It goes to show you the long-reaching effect that Jeff had on people.”
In dedicating his life to the fire service, Whitcomb belonged to Littleton and also to the state, said McQuillen.
For nearly a quarter-century, Whitcomb was an instructor for the New Hampshire Division of Fire Standards and Training and Emergency Medical Services.
“Capt. Whitcomb’s passing is not only an incredible loss for today’s fire service, but for all of the future firefighters that will never have the opportunity to learn from him, “said Justin Cutting, director for the New Hampshire Division of Fire Standards and Training and EMS. “Since 1997, Capt. Whitcomb has served as a senior staff instructor for the New Hampshire Fire and EMS Academy. Capt. Whitcomb’s loss will be felt for years to come and we will do our very best to train as he would want. The entire Division sends its condolences to Capt. Whitcomb’s family, friends, and colleagues.”
For his funeral and the procession, all of the New England states were represented by at least one agency, with a heavy presence from North Country area departments, said Paul Raymond, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Public Safety.
“Absolutely, he is going to be missed,” said McQuillen. “It’s a big hole, a big void, that we have with this loss. I want to thank the community and everybody who came out to pay their respects for him.”
As a fire service instructor, Whitcomb was all in.
“He was pretty hard-nosed and he took his job seriously and he taught that way, too, but if he had a student who really wanted to learn that man would do anything he could to teach that person and take as long as it took to teach them what they wanted to know,” said McQuillen. “That was one of his responsibilities when he was captain, to train the firefighters in Littleton. There is definitely a legacy there and a void that just won’t be filled. They’re big shoes to fill and I don’t think anybody is ever going to reach the caliber that he had. We’ll miss him. The big thank you goes out to the community that supported us and showed up and was there for us when we needed them.”