Little, 50, graduated from Sylacauga High School in 1981 and joined the Childersburg Fire Department in April of 1984.
His brother, Andy Little, said Little’s fire crew had finished fighting the fire at a house on Isabella Street in Waycross, and they were performing cleanup and salvage operations when the house collapsed at about 2 a.m. He was told that his brother pushed another firefighter to safety as the roof caved in, and that an arson investigation is ongoing.
Published reports indicated the Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commission is offering a reward for information about the arson, and that Georgia statutes consider it murder when a firefighter is killed in the line of duty while fighting a fire that has been deemed arson.
Little was pronounced dead at Mayo Clinic Health System Waycross at 3:17 a.m., Ware County Deputy Coroner Terry Anderson told the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. Waycross is about 75 miles northwest of Jacksonville , Fla.
Little was remembered Sunday as a practical joker who sometimes pushed his jokes to the point of being irksome; a staunch University of Alabama football fan; a loyal friend who would do anything to help a friend or relative in need; and a consummate professional who put all joking aside when it was time for training, firefighting or emergency medical care.
“Growing up with Jeff was interesting,” Andy Little said. “You never knew what was going to happen around him. He was always into something. We tied up – I’ve bloodied his nose and he’s bloodied mine – but don’t let anybody else do it to either one of us. It would not be pretty.”
Jeff Little was born April 19, 1963 , the youngest of three sons of Paul and Mary Little of Sylacauga.
Their father was a Sylacauga firefighter for a while, then had a career in finance that led the family to live in Florida , Georgia , Tennessee and South Carolina as the boys grew up.
“But Sylacauga was always home,” Andy Little said, explaining that both sets of grandparents lived here.
Andy Little is a former volunteer firefighter whose two sons are firefighters, and Andy and Jeff Little’s brother, James Little, owns an ambulance service in Columbia , S.C.
“It’s just in our blood. I think it’s basically a desire to help people,” Andy Little said.
Firefighter-paramedics Jeff Little, Jeff Monroe and Perry Wood were hired by the Childersburg Fire Department in April 1984 to start the department’s emergency medical service.
“Jeff was the ultimate prankster,” said Monroe, now a captain at the Childersburg department. “He could dish it out, and he could take it, too. He loved his profession. He loved firefighting and EMS . It’s all he’s ever done that I know of.”
Little worked at the Childersburg department until August 2001, when he moved to Waycross when his wife, Dianne, a nurse, accepted a job transfer there.
“We were roommates up until when I got married. I finally had to run him out,” Monroe chuckled. “It was like, ‘My wife’s coming home with me next week, so you need to be gone,’” he said.
“He would wear us Auburn fans out on Facebook,” Monroe said, adding that a firefighter at Waycross told him that Little’s bed at the fire department was made with Alabama Crimson Tide sheets when he left for his last fire call.
“He always kept an eye and an ear on the Childersburg Fire Department,” Monroe said. “This place was his first love. It’s where he started. His roots and his home were here. He was damned good at his job and he did a fine job for the citizens of this community. All in all it was a pleasure to work with him. We relied on each other and we learned from each other,” Monroe said.
“You can’t ever take for granted how dangerous this job is,” Monroe continued. “This was an ordinary call. Jeff had been on 200 or 300 like this in his career with no consequences, and all the sudden, bam, his life is over. It only takes a few seconds for it to go ugly, and that’s what happened here. He will be sorely missed. The public lost a good public servant.”
Wood, who has retired from firefighting and now works at Sylacauga Ambulance Service, was devastated.
“I’m shocked. Jeff was the last person you would ever have dreamed would die in a fire,” he said.
“He was definitely a cutup. He could make you mad, but he was as good as gold. He would cut up and carry on, but when it came to somebody needing help, he was always there. He was a leader. When he had a problem he would come to one of us, and we could always count on him. We always had a spirit of competition, but it was always healthy. We tried to be there to help each other.”
Childersburg Fire Capt. Tim Shelnutt said he met Little before Shelnutt became a firefighter. “He was my captain until he went to Waycross . It’s been longer that he’s been gone than it was that we worked together, but it seemed like the biggest part of my career. It was a very informative time.
“We never lost a structure while I was working with him as captain. We pretty much stopped the fire where it was,” Shelnutt said. “It was a thing of pride for him, and now that I’m a captain, I know that it’s a lot harder to do than it seemed when he was in charge.
“He was a big influence on me. He was like a brother for a long time. We still kept up after he moved.”
Shelnutt also remembered that Little loved to play guitar, bass and mandolin, and to sing. “We would play classic rock – we all loved Lynyrd Skynyrd – but we got into a bluegrass phase there for a while. Pretty much anything we needed, he could pick it up and play it.”
Childersburg Fire Chief Doug Blair said Sunday was an emotional day for everyone who knew Little.
”You always knew when Jeff was around. He was a very jovial and joking person, but he was also a great fireman and paramedic. He saved a lot of lives on the medical side, and he also kept those who were injured from suffering further injuries. He was just a good man. This is very, very tragic and sad.”
Little is survived by his wife, Dianne; one son, David Little of Irondale; his parents, Paul and Mary Little of Sylacauga; and two brothers, Andy Little of McCalla and James Little of Columbia, S.C.
Tentative plans call for a memorial service Wednesday in Waycross followed by a funeral service in Sylacauga on Friday.
Detailed arrangements will be announced by Curtis and Son Funeral Home.