Thomas Marovich services

Family members, friends and firefighters hold a walking procession from the church to the cemetary at the funeral of Thomas David Marovich Jr. in Hayward, Calif. Photo: Liz Hafalia

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

As a kid, Thomas Marovich Jr. played with toy fire trucks. He channeled his childhood fascination into a firefighting job with the U.S. Forest Service. Whenever he was off duty, he flashed his famous “million-dollar smile” and served as a mentor to young firefighters in training.

That was how Marovich, 20, was remembered today at an emotional Mass in Hayward, where he grew up.

Marovich died July 21 after falling from a helicopter during a training exercise in Humboldt County.

More than 500 relatives, friends and fellow firefighters, their badges wrapped in black mourning bands, gathered at St. Clement Church in Hayward to honor a man described as selfless. Everybody called Marovich “T.J.” for “Tom Jr.”

After the service, mourners walked along Mission Boulevard as an honor guard, motorcycle officers and fire engines escorted Marovich’s casket to nearby Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, where he was buried.

Marovich fell 200 feet from a Bell 212 helicopter at the Backbone Helibase in Willow Creek, authorities said. The same helicopter performed a fly-by at the cemetery.

Marovich was a second-year firefighter apprentice with the Forest Service at the Modoc National Forest. He had been practicing rappelling maneuvers as part of training that is required every two weeks.

Witnesses on board the helicopter reported problems with the harness he had been using, relatives said. His death remains under investigation, Forest Service spokesman John Heil said.

Through tears, Christy Marovich, 21, told those in attendance that she was consumed by nightmares about her brother falling from the helicopter. As firefighters in the audience wept, she said she had images of him simply bouncing back up, as if he were on a trampoline.

She said her brother protected her against people who broke her heart and served as an inspiration to young people who wanted to become firefighters. “You did not become a hero on the day you died,” she said. “You were a hero in the days you lived.”

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