Final Ride: Lt. Chris Foster laid to rest Monday

They came from Linden, Jefferson, Dixon’s Mills, Sweet Water and Old Spring Hill – where he had served as a volunteer for so many years. Red trucks with sirens blaring driven by men and women in the formal attire of their respective department. Some came because they knew him. Others came because they knew what his loss meant. They all recognized that they had lost a fellow member of the great fraternity of firefighters.

Lt. Chris Foster of the Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department passed away in his sleep in the early morning hours of March 23, the day after his birthday and just hours after having worked what proved to be his final call.

“He was 150 percent dedicated in everything he did, with his family and with his fire department family. He gave 150 percent. He was a person you could always count on. He would be here,” DFRD Chief Vernon Waters said of Foster, who joined the Demopolis department in 1994. “With 23 years experience and 150 percent dedication, that’s the hole he is leaving in this department. We’re going to miss him dearly.”

Waters strained to keep his emotions in check as he told of Foster’s firehouse brethren the day following his death.

“It has been tough, very tough,” Waters said. “We asked if anybody wanted to stand and say anything and nobody could do it. That’s how much he brought to this department.”

A pair of ladder trucks stretch the Old Glory across the funeral procession of Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department’s Lt. Chris Foster’s funeral procession Monday.

Foster first came to the Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department on a part-time basis while he was working with Cemex. And, despite more than two decades of full-time service in the City of the People, he continued to volunteer with the Old Spring Hill Volunteer Fire Department.

“He got it on his own. When he first started, he worked at Cemex and he worked part time with us. He just loved it so much he just took it on,” Waters said of Foster’s passion for fires service. “He put his two-week notice in and came to work with us and he has been here ever since.”

While it may be hard to pinpoint exactly from where Foster’s love of fire service was born, those who knew him showed little hesitation in pointing toward the genesis of his love of serving others.

“Chris taught my son to drive the firetruck working with the Old Spring Hill Fire Department. Very, very highly respected and thought of by my son and my family. He was a very, very outstanding man growing up, willing to help anybody, go beyond the call of duty when it was necessary,” Shirley Sprinkle Etheridge (South Marengo Fire and Rescue), who had known Foster since his high school days, said. “He was an honest, upstanding man. He stood up for what he believed in, always went forth with all effort possible to accomplish his goals that he set out for. He always looked back and always said that he wanted his kids to be proud of him and his wife to stand by him. In order to do that, he had to be honest, upright, Christian. He was raised with a good family because his family in the past have always been Christian people. His mother and dad always took care of the boys, and always raised them right with good, moral upbringing.”

Photo by Blythe Smith – Fire service vehicles from Demopolis and neighboring agencies filled the front lot of Fairhaven Baptist Church Monday morning as firefighters from throughout the area paid their respects to Demopolis Fire Department’s Lt. Chris Foster who passed away in his sleep March 23.

Billy Carlisle, himself dedicated to fire service in various forms, forlornly remembered the days when he first became acquainted with the man he would later regard as both professional peer and personal friend.

“I was probably 12, 13 years old when I met Chris. I was going to Linden Baptist Church and Chris was very active with the youth department and helping out with the kids. I’ve known Chris just as being a guy who loved to mentor younger kids, help them get a direction in life, especially in the teenage years,” Carlisle recalled of Foster, who many remember as having a disarming smile that both welcomed the world in. “He was always community minded. I really knew him more from the volunteer fire department than I did from the professional fire department just because of his commitment to his community. Chris was always active in the fire service. And he got married, had children and he has been a great father.”

Foster is regarded as having loved life in the simplest, most profound ways; his passion for service perhaps being equaled only by his love of his family.

“He always had little small, odd hobbies. One that stands out to me is beekeeping. He did honeybees. Just recently in the last few years got into that. He was passionate about it. He took on those hobbies mainly just to help his kids get interested in nature,” Carlisle, who works with the Alabama Forestry Commission, said. “Being in the Forestry Commission, he was always asking me different things about trees and wanted to teach his kids more about the outdoors. Chris was always just a genuine person, a trustworthy person, a good friend.”

Fire engines lined the front wall of Fairhaven Baptist Church as the funeral was taking place Monday morning. Demopolis Police Department officers stood in salute as the procession headed toward Foster’s final resting place at Demopolis Memorial Gardens. Several citizens stood next to their vehicles in the highway and somberly placed hand over heart in homage to the passing of a lifelong servant.

The Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department expressed sorrow and gratitude through its Facebook page Monday as local agencies helped DFRD members assist Foster with his final ride.

“The Demopolis Fire/Rescue Department would like to thank everyone for their support during the late Lt. Chris Foster’s funeral procession today. Fire departments, Police departments, Sheriffs and State Troopers from around Marengo County, neighboring counties, and the state come together as Brothers and Sisters to give Lt. Foster his final ride! To the City of Linden, City of Livingston, City of Tuscaloosa and the City of Northport, we can’t thank you’ll enough for covering our city so we could attend the funeral,” the Facebook post read. “Today was a very emotional and sad day for all of us but Lt. Foster looked down and smiled to see all of this take place in his honor.”

Foster, who died the morning after his 54th birthday, leaves behind a wife, Vanya Maria Wilson Foster; daughters, Mary Azilee (13), Rebekah Phares (6 months) and Sarah Ruth (six months) and son, Matthew Lane (11).