Female firefighter laid to rest in Philadelphia [photos]

The funeral service for fallen firefighter Lieutenant Joyce Craig was held in West Oak Lane on Saturday morning at the Batchelor Brothers Funeral Home on North Broad Street. 

Craig, who lived and worked in Northwest Philadelphia most of her life, was lovingly remembered by family, friends, and colleagues in words bearing the mark of the deep reserve of respect and trust felt for her by so many.  

Mayor Michael Nutter, in his remarks during the service, announced the posthumous promotion of Craig to the rank of Lieutenant, declaring that she “shall be hereafter known as Lieutenant Joyce Craig.”  Nutter also proclaimed a thirty day mourning period, during which all city flags will be flown at half-mast, to be followed by a memorial service at the end of the thirty days.

Hundreds of firefighters, police, and first responders from throughout the Philadelphia metropolitan area attended the service.  Firefighters from central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, DC, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York, as well as Cincinnati, Ohio, and Toronto, CA, were also present to pay their respects.

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Robin Eagan, Fire Marshall, and Joyce Stoll, Retired Battalion Chief, traveled from Detroit, Michigan with four other members of the Detroit Fire Department in order to attend.

“The Fire Department across this country is a family, a brother and sisterhood” said Eagan.  “We wanted to pay respect to our sister and support the people of Philadelphia in their loss.”

Remembering Joyce CraigJoyce Michelle Craig was born in Philadelphia on June 7, 1977, attended Cook-Wissahickon Elementary School, William Levering Middle School, and Murrell Dobbins Vocational High School, where she majored in printing.  She served as an EMT for many years before finally realizing her long-held dream of becoming a member of the Philadelphia Fire Department.  

Craig was a member of Fire Class 178, graduating from the Firefighter Academy in 2004.  She served the City of Philadelphia as a firefighter for eleven years at Station 9, Engine 45, Ladder 21, and Engine 64.  

Craig’s brother, Michael, recalled the intensity with which his sister pursued her goal of becoming a firefighter, saying, “No one knows her dedication like our family.”

“She studied the Fire Department manual day in and day out,” he continued.  “She worked, and then she came home and studied.  

“And she showed that dedication toward anything she wanted, and anything she believed.  It came from the muscle, from the heart.”

Michael Craig also spoke of the paramount importance of family in the Lieutenant’s life, citing the close connections she maintained with relatives as a source of strength and support in her life, saying, “Her values and her way of life definitely did not just fall from the sky.”

In addition to brother Michael, Lieutenant Craig is survived by parents James and Carol, son Mekhi Green, daughter Laylani Lewis, grandmother Joyce, aunt Claudine “Laverne” Battle, sisters La Farist Makasi and Uris Payton, and brother Kareem Meads, as well as many other relatives, friends, and colleagues.

Colleagues remember a friend and comrade“Joyce was my friend.  My true friend,” said Garrett Sahn.

Sahn continued, offering a beautiful and moving tribute to his friend:

“I was with Joy the first time she got hurt on the job, and I was with her the last time.  I was mad at God that day.  I was mad at her.  But after it was all said and done, I had to thank him one last time for touching my friend.  I’m going to miss her.  I love you, Lieutenant.”

“Joyce made us feel like family,” added Captain Bernard Newsome.  “For those twelve hours that our work day consisted of, we were family.”

Addressing Lieutenant Craig’s son Mekhi, Newsome continued, “Every story began with you, and every decision was made with you in mind.  She prepared you for today.  Your Mom wanted you to know you are ready.  She has given you the strength to go on.  Joyce is watching over you.  She is watching over all of us.”

Morgan Miller, speaking on behalf of Club Valiance, recalled the strength and integrity of Lieutenant Craig’s character, noting that in her case the use of the word valiant as a descriptor is quite apt, saying, “She was a hero.”

Club Valiance, representing the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters, will honor Lieutenant Craig with its Hero Award at a future time and place.

The city remembers a heroJoe Schulle, head of the Firefighters’ Union Local 22, opened the remarks from representatives of the Fire Department and the City of Philadelphia, saying, “I’ve come here to honor one of our own.

Schulle spoke of Lieutenant Craig’s exceptional dedication and work ethic, recalling that “injury did not prevent her from doing what she loves,” and calling her “one of our finest firefighters.”

Schulle also addressed the members of Lieutenant Craig’s family, saying, “I want you to know that the men and women of the Fire Department are suffering with you.  Joyce will always be a part of the Fire Department, and firefighters will always remember her dedication and service.”

Retired Commissioner of the Philadelphia Fire Department Lloyd Ayers spoke of the effect that Lieutenant Craig had on others, recalling “her contagious passion to serve the citizens of this city.”

“We will remember her as a great human being,” Ayers continued.  “We will never forget her service and sacrifice to and for humanity.”

Current Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer addressed the members of Lieutenant Craig’s family, saying, “Everything she was to you, she was to us.”

“What I want you to know is that just as Joyce had two families, now you have two families also,” Sawyer added.

Finally, Mayor Michael Nutter spoke for the city, saying to the members of the family, “On behalf of 1.5 million Philadelphians, please accept our deepest condolences.  Your sadness is our sadness.  We are all in this together.  Please know that you are constantly in our thoughts and prayers.  We care about you.  We love you.”

Nutter also spoke of Lieutenant Craig’s exemplary character, noting that “Joyce was a hero not only through her death in service to one of our citizens.  She was a hero in the way she lived her life in service to so many of our citizens.”

Final FarewellsAs Michael Craig stood behind the lectern of the funeral home chapel, he made a request of the people gathered together to honor and pay respect to his sister:

“I want you to stand up now.  And while you are on your feet, I want you to do something.  Take a deep breath, and while your chest is full of your breath, I want you to smile,” said Craig.  “I want you to experience my reaction when I heard from my father the way that my sister died.”

Craig continued, “It gave me great honor that my sister perished in service to the job that she dreamed of having since she was five years old.”

As Craig neared the end of his remarks, he made another request.  By way of introducing the concluding song of the service, a version of Alicia Keys’ “Superwoman” sung by Tasha Underwood, he said, “I know it’s gonna make some of you uncomfortable, but it’s what Joyce wants.  If you know the words to this song, sing along.”

“We’re gonna start this celebration, and we’re gonna celebrate her until we perish,” Craig concluded.

As the last notes of “Superwoman” faded, hundreds of firefighters that had watched the funeral service from North Broad Street moved to stand at attention in the median.  Then the family, friends, and colleagues of Lieutenant Craig exited the funeral home and gathered on either side of the building’s front steps as pallbearers carried the coffin to a waiting fire engine.  An honor guard hoisted the flag-draped coffin onto a wooden platform resting atop the rear portion of the fire engine, now ready to make the journey to Ivy Hill Cemetery, where Lieutenant Joyce Michelle Craig will be buried.  

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