Orange County

Orange Rural firefighter’s funeral draws colleagues from Hillsborough and beyond

Firefighters from the Orange Rural Fire Department lift the flag-draped casket of Jeffrey Holden onto Engine 4 on Saturday morning.
Firefighters from the Orange Rural Fire Department lift the flag-draped casket of Jeffrey Holden onto Engine 4 on Saturday morning.

Firefighters from surrounding communities joined family and friends Saturday morning to mourn the death of a colleague.

The funeral for Orange Rural Fire Department chief of training and safety Jeffrey Holden was held at New Horizon Church.

A procession of about two dozen fire trucks honored Holden’s memory as they traveled from downtown Hillsborough to the church outside of town. Firefighters from Orange Rural began the procession as they carried Holden’s flag-draped casket on Engine 4 from Clements Funeral and Cremation Service to New Horizon Church.

Fire trucks from Durham, Chapel Hill, Cedar Grove, Morrisville, Carrboro, White Cross, Eno, North Chatham, New Hope, Lebanon, Pleasant Garden, Orange Grove and Bahama joined ambulances from South Orange, Duke University Hospital Life Flight and UNC Hospitals in the procession. Representatives from fire departments in Raleigh and Charlotte also attended.

Along the way, people stood on the side of the road paying their respects. A large group of more than 40 people gathered at the State Employees’ Credit Union branch on U.S. 70. Another dozen people stood at the corner of the Churton Grove Center as the procession passed.

In Hillsborough, Sarah Hancock-Elniff remembered Holden as a first responder to calls at Early Head Start where she worked. She said Holden provided first aid to several children in the program after they had asthma attacks. She also said there were occasions that he had given fire-safety talks to the children.

“He loved showing off his firefighting gear,” she said. “But I only knew him as a first responder.”

As the fire trucks entered the church grounds, Engine 4 and about 10 fire trucks made their way up the driveway where U.S. flags were planted on each side. They then went beneath a large U.S. flag suspended between ladder trucks from Hillsborough and Chapel Hill.

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Eulogies were given by Chief Brad Allison of the Caldwell Fire Department and Charles Bowden and Chief Jeff Cabe of the Orange Rural Fire Department.

The service also included a bell ceremony conducted by Chief Matt Sullivan of the Chapel Hill Fire Department. After the benediction, a last call for Holden went out over the fire department’s communications channel.

A firefighter from Bahama said he thought hearing the bagpipes would be the most emotional part of the service, but hearing the last call for Holden was the most poignant.

After the service, a helicopter from UNC Hospitals made a flyover before the fire trucks formed another procession back into town.

Holden died Monday at the main station in downtown Hillsborough after an emergency call to rescue a construction worker trapped in a trench earlier that day. He was found unresponsive at about 1:30 p.m. after showering. He could not be revived by firefighters on shift nor by emergency workers who came to the scene.

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Holden began volunteering with Orange Rural Fire Department in 2001 and became an employee of the department in 2003. He was promoted to lieutenant driver in 2005 and made captain in 2007. He was promoted to assistant chief in 2016. Twice he was honored by the department as the officer of the year for his outstanding leadership, in 2012 and 2014. In 2009, he received the Ben Franklin Award for going above and beyond the call of duty as a firefighter.

He also was a lieutenant with the Caldwell Volunteer Fire Department, which he joined in 2016.

Holden, 32, was a 2003 graduate of Orange High School. He leaves behind his wife, Christa, and their 4-month-old son.

The Hillsborough Firefighters Association opened a share account for the family Tuesday at the Local Government Federal Credit Union, according to a news release. Donations to the “Scholarship Fund for Miller” account can be made at any State Employees’ Credit Union location.