Twenty-eight years ago, Eric W. Jones showed up at the Somers Point Fire Department Company 1 headquarters and asked how he could become a volunteer firefighter.
Fire Chief Michael Sweeney recalled that Jones was soft-spoken and a bit shy at that time. Sweeney also remembered that Jones quietly confided something about himself – he had only one leg.
Jones had his right leg amputated as a boy when he had cancer, but he was still determined to become a firefighter. And he did, overcoming a disability that likely would have prevented virtually anyone else from becoming a firefighter, friends and family members noted.
“Eric pretty much did it all, or at least tried it,” Sweeney said.
Family members, friends, loved ones and firefighters throughout South Jersey spoke of Eric Jones’ perseverance, courage and heroism during the funeral service Saturday for a man affectionately known as “Jonesey.”
A procession of fire trucks draped in black bunting accompanied the hearse that carried Jones’ coffin to the viewing and memorial service at Coastal Christian in Ocean City.
Surrounded by family members, Jones’ brother, Victor Rolls, told mourners that Eric would always look after the family, and if they needed anything, “he was right there.”
“Anytime you fell down, he would make you laugh. Anytime you wanted to talk, he would listen,” Rolls, 46, of Philadelphia, recalled of his older brother in the eulogy.
Rolls fought back tears while telling mourners that Eric would always call him every week “like clockwork” to see if he was all right.
In memory of his brother, Rolls said he plans to dedicate the rest of his life to make sure that the family always stays close.Sweeney, in his remarks at the service, looked back on Jones’ firefighting career. He noted that Jones quickly overcame his shyness when he became a firefighter and would dedicate the next 28 years of his life to Somers Point Fire Department Company 1.
“Eric considered us, and we will always consider him, family,” Sweeney said of the close bonds between Jones and his fellow firefighters.
Jones, 49, a resident of Somers Point, died on Jan. 21 at Shore Medical Center surrounded by his family. His family said the cause of death has not yet been determined.
Before moving to Somers Point, Jones grew up on Fourth Street in Ocean City and graduated from Ocean City High School in 1991. After graduating from West Virginia State University, he worked for engineering firms in Atlantic and Cape May counties.
Rolls said Eric lost his leg to cancer when he was just 12 or 13 years old. He used a prosthesis, but his disability never held him back, his family said.
Despite having only one leg, he wrestled in high school and also rowed. He proved everyone wrong when there were doubts whether he could ever become a firefighter, according to his obituary.
“To him, he didn’t have a handicap. He never limited himself. He truly believed as long as he had God, all things are possible in his eyes,” his obituary stated.
Dennis Sharpe, first vice president of the Atlantic County Firefighters Association, said most people didn’t seem to realize that Jones had an artificial leg.
“You wouldn’t know it, because most of the time he’d pack up and go out,” Sharpe said of how Jones would put on his firefighting gear and respond to fires.
Sharpe added, “He was just one of the guys.”