Firefighters mourn brother and friend killed in gas explosion

Updated: Aug. 12, 2020 at 11:08 PM CDT
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FLORENCE, Miss. (WLBT) - Rodney Herndon was known as a man of great faith. A father and husband, he was also a firefighter of 40 years. He was killed Tuesday in a propane tank explosion while he was working for Blossman Gas.

Herndon, who was originally from the Tupelo area, served at Shannon Fire Department in Lee County, as well as Pearl, Florence, and Cleary fire departments in Rankin County.

Inside the Rankin County Fire Service, everyone knew Herndon. He even mentored some of them. Eva Beckelheimer is a paramedic and firefighter and has known Herndon for a long time. Her son Cheyenne was one of those mentees from age 15 on.

“He was one of his greatest mentors as a junior firefighter and now [Cheyenne] is one of the directors of Pafford,” said Beckelheimer. “He will tell you how much Rodney meant to him learning the field, especially the fire field.”

Star Fire Department Chief Jackie Squires said his friend Herndon could always find the good in things.

“He was just a positive person. I don’t care what we were doing,” said Squires. “He grew on you and he grew on you fast. He was just that type of person.”

Herndon was known to be meticulous about safety and thorough about procedure, which made him the perfect trainer for firefighters learning the craft. Chief Jim Palmer of Cleary Fire Department said there won’t soon be another like his assistant chief.

“There’s no way to describe the greatness he brought all of us, through training, through just sitting talking to you,” said Palmer. “He’s truly going to be missed.”

Beckelheimer said she learned a lesson too from watching Herndon. Where he saw need, he filled it, she said.

“Rodney was a huge one that if someone was in trouble or in need, as long as he heard about it, he would take care of it whether it was a bill or something someone needed, like food,” she said. “If we’d run a call and then if they wouldn’t have food or something in their home it was nothing to see him coming back from Kroger, and he’d leave it there, anonymous.”

On social media, first responders all over Rankin County mourned and celebrated their friend, talking about his impact on their lives.

“I like a lot of people lost a friend: Rodney Herndon: my parents lived with me in their final years, during the last year they became prone to falls; seems like always in the middle of the night; I’d call the fire department: my folks would be, ashamed, embarrassed and upset; every time Rodney would come, he and the other guys would get them up and check them out: then Rodney’s ministering would start,” wrote Alex Buddy Cooper. “He’d pray over them then he would visit until the were laughing and happy; pop would hug Rodney and mom would kiss his cheek; they loved him and so did I; He was a man who walked i true Christian love; he was a once in a life time friend.”

Jackie Squires’ son Hunter was another who was changed from a young age by knowing Herndon.

“If you didn’t know this man, he’s one of the reasons I’m not dead because I used to be more reckless on a fire ground. He was the safety guru,” he wrote. “We were family, been through hell and back and went back for more. He’s been around most of my life. The world lost a true gem. But I have no doubt that he is up there right now keeping a watchful eye out for us when the tones drop. Rodney, I love you my brother. Keep us safe.... We got it from here.”

Herndon’s memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church of Florence. For precautionary reasons, there will not be a visitation time and the family asks that everyone please wear a mask.

Herndon leaves behind his wife Shelley and his children Taylor and Abby.

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