A firefighter’s final farewell

About 1,000 people attend service for Gregg Roberts, a Vancouver Fire captain, who was killed in an off-duty motor vehicle accident

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Memorial contributions can be made to the Gregg Roberts Benevolent Fund at any branch of Umpqua Bank.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Gregg Roberts Benevolent Fund at any branch of Umpqua Bank.

Vancouver Fire Capt. Gregg Roberts spoke openly about his faith in God and kept a large-print Bible on his nightstand that he could read without using his glasses.

However, “you weren’t going to find Gregg in church,” his friend, pastor Kevin Brusett, said Monday to approximately 1,000 people at the First Church of God in Hazel Dell.

Roberts’ church was the outdoors, his community and the people he could help, Brusett said.

“Gregg’s faith lived out in his actions,” he said.

Roberts, 52, died June 6 from injuries sustained in an off-duty motor vehicle accident in the 10100 block of Northeast Ward Road in Hockinson. His 1997 Jeep Wrangler rolled over, which investigators suspected was caused by an overcorrection. Roberts was wearing a lap and shoulder belt but his seat came out of the vehicle.

He is survived by his wife of 28 years, Gail, and their three children, Landen, 22, Olivia, 20, and Cade, 15.

While his religious beliefs were praised Monday, so was his competitiveness, love for family and ability to liven up a moment by either playing a prank or making himself the joke.

And his go-to move to impress? A backflip, said longtime friend Mike Thomas, who delivered the eulogy.

Born in Tacoma, Roberts was raised on a farm in Buckley. At age 10 — against his mother’s wishes, Thomas noted — Roberts started spending summers in Alaska with the family’s commercial fishing business.

“He enjoyed the thrill and adventure of each summer,” Thomas said. An older brother recalled how Roberts was determined to beat genetics and grow to 6-feet-tall, and that he would hang from chin-up bars in an effort to stretch himself. (Whether his method worked may be subject to debate, but he did grow to 6-feet and was proud of his ability to dunk a basketball, Thomas said.)

Roberts met Gail at Walla Walla University, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in physical education. He taught at schools in Colorado and California before he and Gail decided to move back to Washington. In 1996, Roberts became the athletic director and P.E. teacher at Meadow Glade Adventist Elementary School in Battle Ground, where he worked until 2003.

Never content to stop learning, he went on to earn a master’s degree in education and became a volunteer firefighter in 2002.

In 2004, his dream came true when he was hired by the Vancouver Fire Department, Thomas said.

Roberts’ 10 years with the fire department were the high point of his professional life, Thomas said. During a video tribute, photographs showing Roberts with fellow firefighters at Station 2 in west Vancouver were shown while U2’s “Beautiful Day,” played.

Vancouver Fire Chief Joe Molina, who promoted Roberts to captain in 2010, thanked the capacity crowd for coming to the funeral.

“We have, as an organization, experienced a tremendous loss,” he said. Striving to find the right words to describe Roberts, Molina said he went back through his email and found the only message he ever received from Roberts. In it, Roberts praised a candidate for battalion chief.

“It wasn’t about himself,” Molina said.

Molina added that Roberts served in the department’s honor guard, which participated in Monday’s funeral, along with honor guards from other agencies.

“And today, they honor one of their own,” Molina said, before presenting Gail Roberts with a folded American flag.

Landen, Olivia and Cade each got a piece of Roberts’ honor guard attire.