Johnston County

Smithfield, Pine Level mourn loss of firefighter

Firefighter Chris Daniels, shown here in his dress uniform, died unexpectedly Monday.
Firefighter Chris Daniels, shown here in his dress uniform, died unexpectedly Monday. PHOTO COURTESY OF TOWN OF SMITHFIELD.

Local fire departments are mourning the loss of one of their own.

Chris Daniels, 40, of Selma died Monday while on duty at the Pine Level Fire Department. A full-time fire engineer with the Smithfield Fire Department for 12 years, Daniels also volunteered with the Pine Level, Thanksgiving and Selma fire departments

Pine Level Fire Chief Steve Holloman, who had served with Daniels for many years, said you couldn’t hope to find a better man.

“He was an outstanding guy, highly trained to do his job, great with kids and loved kids,” Holloman said. “He was a super-strong fella who always ran and worked out, and he was a family man.”

Daniels arrived for a shift at the Pine Level fire station at 6 a.m. Monday, and following his usual routine, he went for a 30-minute run, according to a U.S. Fire Administration fatality report. Daniels failed to respond to a call around 7:20 a.m., Holloman said, and his fellow firefighters found him unresponsive on the couch in the station’s day room.

Daniels appears to have died of natural causes and not as a result of his work, said Town of Smithfield spokesman Tim Kerigan.

Pine Level firefighters escorted Daniels’ body to Raleigh for an autopsy and then back to Selma, Holloman said. Officials bumped Daniels’ autopsy to the top of the list, he said, and the results should come back in about a month.

Daniels was born March 7, 1975, in Wayne County to Joe and Debbie Daniels, who now live in Clayton. He marched with the band at Smithfield-Selma High School and graduated in 1993.

Daniels was a member of Branch Chapel Original Free Will Baptist Church, where he taught Sunday School to third- and fourth-grade children. He served on the boards of the Selma Fire Department and Selma Emergency Services, and he taught fire classes at Johnston Community College.

Daniels was family to the Smithfield Fire Department, said interim chief John Blanton.

“Chris loved life, loved people, loved the children of the communities he served. He was of very strong faith,” Blanton said in a statement. “He was extremely dedicated to his family, his church and this department. This a tremendous loss for all.”

It has been pretty hectic around the Pine Level fire station since Daniels died, Holloman said, as the crew helped plan for a funeral and grieved the loss of a colleague. The first day and a half after the death, he said, firefighters from Selma and Cleveland volunteered to cover the Pine Level fire district. Staff from Four Oaks did the same for Smithfield, he said.

“It allowed my guys to absorb the shock of the death,” Holloman said. “Everybody was just sitting around, telling stories about Chris and stuff.”

The funeral for Daniels is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Branch Chapel Original Free Will Baptist Church, and the family will receive friends at the church starting at 9:30 a.m. Daniels will be buried with fire department honors in Price Cemetery near Pine Level.

The public may pay its respects from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday at Parrish Funeral Home in Selma.

Contributions in memory of Daniels may be made to the ProTeens at Branch Chapel Original Free Will Baptist Church, P.O. Box 100, Selma, N.C. 27576.

To allow the firefighters who served alongside Daniels to attend his funeral, Holloman said, crews from Wake County will cover for the Pine Level, Smithfield, Selma and Thanksgiving departments on Friday.

“We’d do the same for them. It’s just the fireman brotherhood,” he said.

Along with his parents, Daniels is survived by his wife Kristie, daughter Maegan Hicks and son-in-law Caleb.

Holloman said the the Pine Level Fire Department will be there for the family going forward.

“We’ll just remember Chris, keep his family close to us and watch over them as time goes on,” he said.