Fire that killed Little ruled arson; death being investigated as homicide
by Bill Kimber
Dec 16, 2013 | 2078 views |  0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lt. Jeff Little of the Waycross, Ga., Fire Department was killed in the line of duty early Sunday. His funeral will be Friday in Sylacauga.
Lt. Jeff Little of the Waycross, Ga., Fire Department was killed in the line of duty early Sunday. His funeral will be Friday in Sylacauga.
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The fire that led to the death of Sylacauga native and former Childersburg firefighter Jeff Little has been ruled an arson, and therefore his death is being investigated as a homicide under Georgia law.

Little died early Sunday in Waycross, Ga., from injuries suffered while fighting a house fire.

Little, 50, was a lieutenant at the Waycross Fire Department, where he had worked for 12 years. He graduated from Sylacauga High School in 1981 and worked at the Childersburg Fire Department from April 1984 to August 2001. He left Childersburg as a captain.

Firefighters responded to the blaze on Isabella Street in Waycross shortly after midnight on Sunday, said Glenn Allen, spokesman for Georgia’s Insurance and Safety Commissioner. He said the house had been vacant for a long time and didn’t have electricity or other utilities.

Little’s brother, Andy Little, said Little’s fire crew had extinguished the fire and they were performing cleanup and salvage operations and checking for hot spots when the roof collapsed at about 2 a.m. He was told that his brother pushed another firefighter to safety as the roof caved in.

Little was pronounced dead at Mayo Clinic Health System Waycross at 3:17 a.m. Sunday, 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.”

David 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. Andy and Jeff Little’s middle brother, James Little, owns an ambulance service in Columbia, S.C.

Emergency service “is 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 kickstart the department’s fledgling emergency medical service. Little previously worked at Sylacauga Ambulance 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 and his wife, Dianne, moved to Waycross in 2001 when she accepted a transfer to a nursing job 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.” Little has been gone more years than he and Shelnutt 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; two stepsons, Michael Chad Grubb of Sylacauga and Matthew Stephen Grubb of Waycross; his parents, Paul and Mary Little of Sylacauga; and two brothers, Andy Little of McCalla and James Little of Columbia, S.C.

A memorial service is planned at Central Baptist Church in Waycross at 2 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, with visitation tonight from 5 to 9 at the church. Miles-Odum Funeral Home will direct that service.

Funeral will be Friday at 1 p.m. at Curtis and Son Funeral Home in Sylacauga with burial in Bluff Springs Cemetery. The family will receive friends Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the funeral home.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Jeremy Norris Scholarship Fund c/o James M. Dye Foundation, 2001 South Georgia Parkway, Waycross, Ga. 31503.

Condolences may be expressed online at milesodumfuneralhome.com.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.