Beloved Banks County firefighter hailed 'true hero,' laid to rest

Friends, family and the Banks County community said their goodbyes to former fire Capt. Richie Alford. He was laid to rest a week after he died a hero saving two people from a rip current in Florida.

"Fortunately for these people they got saved, unfortunately we lost a good friend because of it," said Chief Steve Nichols from Banks County Fire and EMS.

On the day of the tragedy, Panama City Beach officials say double red flags were flying, meaning the water was closed, but the swimmers Alford saved went in any way. 

Nichols says Alford was a Banks county firefighter for 17 years until he retired two years ago, but he was still a part of the family. He says this loss was the ultimate sacrifice for a man who loved to help people.

"He was here with a servant’s heart to be a servant for people, that’s all he wanted to do," Nichols said. "Believe me, he strove for that, and he did a great job at it."

Over the weekend, large crowds paid respects as Alford’s body was brought home. Alford was laid to rest Thursday in northeast Georgia. Nichols says he was given a sendoff fit for a hero.

"One of the ministers today spoke at the grave site earlier, and he said Richie was a man’s man," he said. "I guess that’s probably the best way to sum him up. He didn’t meet a stranger. If he met you, you would befriend him quickly."

The fire department says Alford died a "true hero." The chief says he appreciates the huge outpouring of support they have gotten from local fire departments during this difficult time.