HOWARD COUNTY, TX (KWES) - It was just after 10 a.m. on Monday when dispatch said the words many people in Howard County did not want to hear, "End of watch for Tommy Sullivan."
Tommy served as a volunteer firefighter for Howard County for 35 years, but he was much more than that to many that worked alongside of him.
Sullivan was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer back in March and had been dealing with health issues after having part of his right leg amputated in 2017. The amputation came after facing complications from an incident from more than 10 years ago.
Many of the men that served next to him said he was more than just a chief, he was father figure and spiritual leader.
"I put in an application and I went to go leave and he says, 'Where are you going?' 'Ah, sir, I am going back home.' And, he goes, 'Oh no, you are part of our family, you will stay for dinner,' and he didn't even know me," said John Kappel, Howard County Volunteer Fire Department firefighter.
His brother, Pepper Sullivan, said Tommy would light up every room he walked into.
"I could walk into a home and say have a nice day, and they would say yea right," said Pepper. "He would walk into a room and say have a nice day and people would stand up and cheer. There was just something about his aura and personality."
At 3 years old, Tommy suffered burn marks from the waist down in a fire accident. He was working at his father's service station when a fire started, and Tommy tried to put the fire out. After that, he was told he would never walk again; but, through faith and perseverance, he proved the doctors wrong. Well, Pepper said Tommy was born to be a firefighter.
"I was cleaning a carburetor and Tommy was playing with the bench grinder and sparks from the bench grinder caught the bucket on fire. Well at that time, Smokey the Bear, the big push was stomp out fires. So, being 3 years old, there was a fire, he decided he was going to stomp it out. Of course, when he went in it to stomp it, it just splashed it all up his waist," said Pepper Sullivan.
The new Howard County volunteer fire chief will be Mitchell Hooper, who said Tommy was a mentor for him. When asked how he felt about stepping into a great man's shoes, Hooper shared an emotional encounter.
"He (Tommy) said, 'Where my footsteps stop, yours start,'" said Hooper.
Tommy was married to Valerie Sullivan for 37 years. A memorial service is planned for Saturday at First Baptist Church of Big Spring.